HASTINGS – Watertown-Mayer senior Albert Rundell loves to throw the ball. He likes it even more when his teammate and friend Wyatt McCabe is on the other end.
When the Watertown-Mayer football team needed it most, the dynamic duo for the Royals delivered in the biggest way possible. It was like running routes in the backyard and drawing up plays on your hand for the two as they connected on a 51-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes of the game to put W-M up and give them a thrilling 34-30 win over Cannon Falls in the Class AAA state quarterfinals Thursday night.
“That’s pretty much what I told him,” Rundell said with a laugh. “I told him I wasn’t going to miss him on this one. I’ll get you the ball and you do the rest and he did just that.”
“To be honest, with those two guys, there’s times where we draw plays up on the sideline and say let’s try it,” W-M coach Andrew Phillips said. “They execute it and it works. It’s huge to have guys like that.”
The big play to put the Royals ahead was just one of many big plays for W-M throughout the game. After trailing 16-0 to open the game and 30-20 early in the fourth quarter, there was never any panic on the sideline for the Royals.
“The resiliency of these kids is unbelievable,” Phillips said. “To be down like that and battle back says a lot about who they are. It shows a lot about the leadership of our team. These seniors are the true leaders of our program and where we’re at. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”
“We’ve been in that situation before,” McCabe added. “We play in a tough district all year with some of the best teams in the state. I think that’s prepared us for situations like this. We’re just able to keep battling and face whatever adversity there is.”
The Power T offense by the Bombers gave W-M fits early on. Cannon Falls scored on their first two possessions of the game, putting W-M in a 16-0 hole early on. Despite the tough start defensively, the Royals made adjustments throughout the game and settled in against the Bombers’ prominent rushing attack.
“When you’re getting double-teamed in the trenches and working hard and getting beat up play after play, it’s tough,” senior Ian Burau said. “It beats you up. We knew they were going to be a tough team. They’re very tough running the ball. We struggled at first but then started to figure it out and worked as a team.”
Down two scores, W-M got the offense going in the second quarter with the passing game going with the win. Rundell hit Gannon Lee in stride for a 49-yard touchdown for the Royals to get them on the scoreboard and give them some momentum.
Following the score, the Royals got a huge defensive stop. On 4th and 2 on their own 28-yard line, Cannon Falls rolled the dice and went for it. W-M came up with a huge stop to force a turnover on downs.
“We talked at halftime and they were all saying that they don’t even know who has the ball,” Phillips said. “None of us knew but we just had to tackle them all. They did a great job though and adjusted. It worked out for us. That’s a really tough offense to stop. I’m glad we don’t have to see that next week again.”
“They did a great job,” McCabe added about the defense. “We preached discipline. Everybody did their job and we figured it out that first quarter. When you’ve never played against it, you really don’t know how it’s going to be.”
The Royals would take advantage of the turnover on downs. Burau would score on a 1-yard touchdown run and Ashton Hecksel added the extra point to close the gap to just three with just over four minutes left in the second quarter.
Bureau wasn’t done making plays for the Royals. On the ensuing possession, Burau intercepted a screen pass and returned it all the way to the one-yard line to set up a touchdown run by Steven Duske to give W-M a 20-16 lead.
“I saw it was a pass and he looked my way so I dropped back and I was right there and caught it,” Bureau said about the play. “Last week I fumbled, so I was just holding it tight and kept moving.”
Cannon Falls would threaten before halftime but the Royals would come up with a big stop in the end zone as time expired to take a 20-16 lead into the break.
After forcing a three-and-out by the Bombers on the first drive of the second half, W-M had a chance to break things open. A fake put on 4th and 2 was called at the perfect time but the Royals couldn’t convert as the pass was dropped and Cannon Falls took over in W-M territory. The Bombers would capitalize on the mistake with a 17-yard touchdown run by Dylan Banks to put them up 22-20 with just under six minutes left in the third quarter.
Cannon Falls would keep things rolling. After an interception by Rundell, the Bombers would add on another score and the two-point conversion to make it 30-20 Cannon Falls with just over 11 minutes left to play. Despite being down two scores late, the Royals never panicked.
“We’ve seen it before,” Bureau said. “We’ve done it and knew we could fight back. It’s tough to come back and it’s hard to do mentally. That’s something we struggle with but we always seem to figure it out.”
“We’re never out of a game,” Rundell added. “We can put up points in a hurry and our defense can get big stops in big moments. We just had to step up in those moments.”
Rundell and the Royals proved just that by putting together one of their most impressive drives of the season to get back into the game. W-M converted 3rd and 6, 4th and 5, and 4th and 8 all in the same drive that was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Rundell to make it a 30-27 game with six minutes to go.
“It has a lot to do with who they are,” Phillips said about the big drive. “They’re just competitors. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to win the game. Big players make big plays in big games. Those are the kind of things you need to happen to be playing where we are right now.”
Needing another stop, W-M got just that as they took over the ball on their own 49-yard line after forcing a Cannon Falls punt. It took just one play for the Royals to take the lead as Rundell and McCabe hooked up for the 51-yard touchdown to take the lead.
The wind was a big factor in the game for the Royals. All five of their touchdowns came going with the win including scoring 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to stun the Bombers and secure their spot in the Class AAA state semifinals.
“That’s been one of our strengths this year is the ability to throw the football,” Phillips said. “In the first and third quarters, we couldn’t do it. It made us a one-dimensional team. When we got to go with the win, we took advantage of it with a couple of big touchdown passes that really helped us out.”
A familiar foe awaits the Royals in the state semifinals. They’ll take on New London-Spicer, a team they played already once this season and needed a last-second field goal to win.
“I’m super excited,” McCabe said about the matchup “We had a heck of a game with them last time. I think we’ve improved a lot since then so it will be interesting to see how we stack up against them.”
“It should be a great matchup,” Rundell added. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready to play at US Bank Stadium.”
Kickoff is set for W-M and New London-Spicer for Saturday, Nov. 19 at US Bank Stadium at 4:30 p.m.
“I played there last year with Becker,” Bureau said. “It’s one of the greatest experiences you can have in high school football. There isn’t a group of boys I’d rather do it with than these guys right here. I love them. They are the best group you could ask for. It makes football so much more fun.”
“The positive thing about it is that someone from our district is going to play for a state championship whether that’s us or them,” Phillips added. “That says a lot about the district we play in. It’s nice to play a familiar opponent and someone you know, but at the same time, I like playing someone you don’t know. We’ll get after it this week and it will be a lot of fun.”
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports