In the end, the same recipe in which the Stillwater football team was cruising to an easy Friday night win helped the Ponies maintain that win after the latter turned interesting.
Lots and lots of Eddie O’Keefe.
The senior running back ran for four touchdowns, then had a pair of crucial carries on a final drive that helped Stillwater halt a furious White Bear Lake fourth-quarter rally and run away with a 35-28 road win.
“I think everyone in this team has gotten better over the past few weeks,” said O’Keefe, whose team has improved 5-0 this season.
“But especially our offensive line. They just complement me so well. They’re doing the same things.”
In fact, they did a lot in the first three quarters of Friday.
Although the Bears struck first when senior Anthony Lewis-Royal made his way into the end field from 8 yards with 1:20 to play in the first quarter, O’Keefe answered the ponies for a goal on one. Took just one game to give. A 65-yard run ran in the middle to level the score at 7-7.
And from there, the rest of the first half belonged to Stillwater.
O’Keefe scored touchdown runs of 8 and 2 yards in the second quarter, the latter of those coming after a squib punt by the Bears delivered the ball to the Ponies at White Bear Lake 30. He ended the first half with nine carries. 85 yards, and Stillwater headed into the locker room with a 21-7 lead.
“He’s really good,” said Bears coach Ryan Bartlett, whose team fell 3-2. “He is capable of sliding and pouncing. There have been times tonight when we had few people to pretend we had, and he slipped immediately.”
O’Keefe scored again, this time on another 8-yard run, to put the Ponies on top 28-7 with 2:10 to play into the third quarter.
But then the pace changed.
First, White Bear Lake with 7:27 to play cut the gap to 28-14 on a 37-yard touchdown catch by Junior Rayson Breaux, then recovered an onside kick at Stillwater 42. But moments later, Ponies senior Chance Svensson scooped up. A fumble in midfield and returned it for a touchdown that put his team 35–14.
“I was just sitting on the sidelines doing my thing and waiting for something to come my way,” Svensson said.
“Then I saw the ball bounce, and that was every defensive player’s dream.”
And yet the Bears didn’t surrender, scoring two more touchdowns – both on catches from senior Alex Lockwood (30 and 5 yards) – to reduce the gap to 35-28 from less than 2:30.
But when Stillwater got the ball back, O’Keefe scored two big runs from over 20 yards for the first down, and the ponies took the game away.
“He did a lot in that fourth quarter and we could have done something better,” Stillwater coach Beau Labour said.
“But I told my people that the scoreboard is for numbers. They don’t put pictures or short stories in there. And we did really well tonight to get the win.”
Thanks, in large part, to the efforts of O’Keefe—who scored three touchdowns in a win over Ossio last week and three touchdowns in a win over Roseville the week before.
“I just tried to focus on not stumbling,” he said of his efforts on his team’s final possession. “I knew that if I could catch the ball, we were going to get out of here with a win, and we could enjoy the bus ride home.
“It’s a really good feeling to be 5-0. But one thing we’ve tried to emphasize throughout the season is the importance of going 1-0 every week. So we can enjoy it till Sunday. Then we’re 0-0 again.”