The Hastings Raiders football team is headed to the Section 3AAAAA championship game after shutting out rival Park 14-0 at Todd Field at McNamara Stadium. Saturday night's game was also the "Last on Grass" game, the last game played on grass at Todd Field as turf will soon be installed there, and the first 400 fans at the game were given towels commemorating the the event. Hastings travels to St. Thomas for a rematch with the Cadets Friday, Nov. 2, for a chance to go to state.
The Raiders won on the back of a dominant defense and big plays on offense as they got big games from seniors Ben Streeter, Amar Thomas and Corbin Leflay. Heading into the game, Park was missing some of their offensive playmakers. Hastings was the first to score as they opened the game with the ball. Their drive stalled and they were forced to punt, but the Wolfpack muffed the punt and Thomas recovered it at the Park 10 yard line. Streeter then scored on a 6-yard sweep and the XP was good to make it 7-0 Hastings with 6 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first quarter. The next drive, Park was moving the ball steadily before Thomas ripped the ball from the Wolfpack running back at the Raiders' 29, but Hastings was unable to capitalize. The score at the end of the first quarter was 7-0 Hastings.
After an exchange of punts in the second quarter, the Raiders took over at their own 46 midway through the quarter and Leflay broke a 40-yard run down to the Wolfpack 15. From there, Streeter pulled in a 13-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Sully Levos for his second score of the game and Hastings led 14-0 with 5:53 left in the first half. The Raiders still led 14-0 at halftime.
The second half saw the stifling performance by the Hastings defense continue, though the offense was unable to extend their lead. Park was able to move the ball during their first drive of the second half but Streeter continued to make big plays, this time an interception in the end zone to end the Wolfpack's threat. Thomas made a couple big tackles out on the perimeter and broke up a few passes to prevent big plays. Park got the ball twice in the last five minutes of the game but were unable to mount a comeback and turned the ball over on downs with under two minutes left in the game, allowing the Raiders to run the clock out.
Hastings had over 200 yards of offense and held Park to under 175, most of which came early on as the Wolfpack rotated quarterbacks and ran a lot of quarterback dives out of the shotgun. Leflay led the Raiders with 150 yards on 29 carries and Streeter had his rushing touchdown. Levos completed 5-of-13 passes for 35 yards and the touchdown to Streeter, who led the team with three receptions for 35 yards and the score.
While the Hastings defense did allow 154 rushing yards, like Strain said they did not give up any big plays and never really came close to scoring. The Raiders forced two turnovers, Thomas' muffled punt recovery and Streeter's interception, and did not turn the ball over themselves.
Head coach Dana Strain said after the game that the defense has been consistent all season, bends but does not break and makes plays when they need to.
"Same effort we've gotten from them all year, they're just very resilient," he said. "Sometimes we got them (Park) off three-and-out, other times they'd move on us. Park is good, they gave us a little different look, but the thing is the kids have been resilient all year long, so they hang in, hang in, we didn't give up big plays, that was the huge key for us. We've been so good defending big plays all year, so you make them earn it and then it gives ourselves a chance somewhere along the drive to make a play. Then you get guys like Benny Streeter make huge plays, and Amar Thomas made huge plays."
Thomas, a senior defensive back who has been solid for the Raiders all season, no doubt had his best game of the season against Park. He had the big fumble recovery of the Wolfpack's muffed punt, another big tackle on special teams, and even more big plays for Hastings on defense. He said that after that first possession the Raiders really settled into the game.
"Before the game, we're all coming in kind of nervous you know, because there's a lot of expectation on us, we've got to come out and be strong, but once they stopped us on offense and then I got the fumble recovery, that set the momentum," Thomas said.
Looking ahead to next week and the section championship game against St. Thomas, Thomas said that the key will be stepping up and stopping the Cadets' rushing attack.
"We just need to stop their run game, we need to not be scared I would say," he said. "The defense, we held our end at halftime, it was 6-7, and then they came out pounding us. I think we were just intimidated by them, kind of scared. So we just need to come out and focus. We have this thing called CTC, control the controllables, you control what you can control. We just need to stop the run game, come out fast, strong, set the tone right away. It's going to be our toughest matchup of the year and it's going to be a great game."
Hastings hosted St. Thomas Academy for their homecoming game on Friday, Sept. 28, which saw the Cadets win 24-6. The Cadets held the Raiders to just 43 yards rushing on 19 carries, while Levos attempted a season-high 26 passes but only completed seven of them for 92 yards, a touchdown and an interception. St. Thomas also ran for almost 200 yards on the Raiders defense, most by their powerful senior running back Brendan McFadden.
The winner of takes home the Section 3AAAAA championship and advances to the state tournament. The quarterfinal state tournament game is at Shakopee West Junior High on Saturday, Nov. 10, at noon against the winner of Section 4AAAAA. The semi finals and state championship game are the Minnesota Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium on Nov. 16 and 24.