Hastings' offense looked the best it has all season and the defense forced two turnovers in the rain and mud to defeat Tartan 27-14 Friday, Oct. 6, during homecoming.
The Raiders' power running game proved invaluable in the slippery muck and they thoroughly dominated the line of scrimmage the entire game. With the win, Hastings is now 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the Suburban Maroon subdistrict.
Tartan took a quick 7-0 lead not even three minutes into the game when running back Trae Martin scored on a 43-yard touchdown run. After each team turned the ball over (the Raiders'' senior Noah Bzoskie recovering a fumble but then Hastings' senior quarterback Trey Rogers was intercepted in the red zone) Hastings scored on a 39-yard touchdown run by junior running back Corbin Leflay. The game was tied 7-7 at the end of the first quarter.
After forcing a Tartan punt with eight minutes and 16 seconds left in the first half, the Raiders marched 79 yards on a drive that lasted almost seven minutes and was capped by a four-yard touchdown run by Leflay. During the drive, the Raiders' passing game really started to click, which helped loosen up the Tartan defense and made their running game even more effective. Hastings led 14-7 going into halftime.
While the field was pretty wet, it only lightly rained during the first half. The second half was a different story entirely. It rained steadily the entire second half and at times downpoured, which turned the football field into a sloppy mess. With the treacherous footing, the Raiders' power running game really took off thanks to their experienced offensive line and the tough running of Rogers, Leflay and junior running back Alex O'Connor.
Both teams traded punts to start the second half and then senior Jacob Peine set Hastings up at the Tartan 36-yard line after a great punt return. Hastings then converted on an O'Connor 13-yard touchdown run and it was 21-7 with 3:57 left in the third quarter.
Later in the fourth quarter, Hastings pinned Tartan inside their own 5-yard line and then recovered a Titan fumble just outside the goal line. Rogers then ran it in from one yard out and the Raiders led 27-7 after a botched extra point attempt with 4:08 left in the game.
Tartan managed to get one more touchdown but could not mount a comeback and Hastings won 27-14.
"The level that our kids performed at in those conditions, I was highly impressed with, across the board," head coach Dana Strain said. "You're still going to be able to run the football, you're still going to be able to tackle people, you can still throw the ball a little bit. What you probably anticipate a little bit more is that your kids are going to make some mistakes. The ball is going to be on the ground more often on a night like that than if it's perfect conditions, that's generally what you expect. Truthfully, our kids in all phases, this is long snapping, catching punts, running with the football, throwing and catching the football, our kids I thought performed extremely well. We didn't have any more (mistakes) than you would normally get on a perfect night. We literally played about our best football game in terms of being clean."
Hastings dominated on the ground, rushing for 218 yards and four touchdowns on 49 carries. The Raiders were led by Leflay, who ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries and O'Connor rushed 11 times for 84 yards and a touchdown.
"Early on the field was good enough that the footing was fine," Strain explained. "Corbin's touchdown run was a heck of a nice run where he had to cut back, stop and restart, so that was a pretty impressive run. To do that in those conditions shows an understanding of his body, same with O'Connor, they're both good enough athletes that they figured out how they could perform without slipping and falling and that's the key to those nights."
Leflay, who had a solid game against St. Thomas Academy before his breakout game against Tartan, said that the homecoming atmosphere played a big difference for him and his teammates.
"The only big difference I can point out (between previous games and then Tartan) is that it was our homecoming game and no one wants to lose their homecoming game," he said. "So I think it just gave us a lot more energy during the game and once a big play happened it got us even more pumped up and it turned into a domino effect. One good play after another came once we got going."
While the passing game did not see much volume due to the rain, when the Raiders did throw the ball they were effective. Rogers completed five-of-seven passes for 42 yards and an interception, which came on a throw that seemed to slip and sail away from his receiver. Sophomore wide receiver Jackson Kirchoff led the Raiders with two receptions for 21 yards, while junior receivers Ben Streeter and Noah Kullmann each caught one pass for 10 yards apiece.
On to Apple Valley
The Raiders travel to Apple Valley Friday, Oct. 13, and then end the regular season at home against South St. Paul on Wednesday, Oct. 18.
Looking ahead to Apple Valley, Strain said that despite it being a new season, playing at Apple Valley in the playoffs last season will be a benefit.
"You're acclimated to what it's going to be like there," he explained. "It seems like a small thing, but really it's kind of nice going to a place where you've been there before, you know where the locker room is going to be, all those things so there's a comfort level and you can focus on the game at hand. The bigger takeaway would be the fact that we have some kids who played on that field last year, were in that game and understand that Apple Valley is a very good football team this year but they're still human and still high school kids."