Up 29 points on the defending Class 4A champion, Andale senior Hunter Knoblauch had a message for his team on the sideline.
“I told them, ‘Let’s get to 50-0,’ ” Knoblauch said. “Let’s just keep it going and going. They’re the defending state champs and we wanted to bury them so bad.”
Buhler is too proud a program to allow that to unfold, but it could do little else in a 41-20 thumping delivered by Andale in front of its home crowd on Friday night.
In a surprising twist, Andale’s smaller and less experienced offensive line handled a senior-laden Buhler line to pave the way for 320 rushing yards and five touchdowns from Knoblauch and fellow tailback Hank Eck.
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“That’s just the mentality that Andale has,” senior guard Mark Hageman said. “We’re going to get it done.”
Hageman was the lone returner to a line that saw a significant downturn in size and an increase in quickness. Transitioning four new starters against the quality of Buhler was a concern, but became a strength.
Buhler was well aware of Andale’s intentions of shooting Knoblauch to the edges, yet could do little to stop it. Knoblauch had nine runs of 10 yards or more, some created entirely by his speed, but many due to the blocking of newcomers Reid Martin, Daniel Bergkamp, Alec Hein and Kelton Deaver.
“Last year, how many times did we run the sweep?” Knoblauch said. “(Buhler) knew we were going to try to get the edge. They tried to turn it in, but our linemen were doing a good job of scooping on the backside, then one cut and you’re gone.”
After Andale’s defense produced a stop on fourth down in its own territory to gain possession, Knoblauch was given six straight carries and responded with 68 yards and a touchdown.
Disaster struck for Buhler immediately following, as a high snap never reached quarterback Jace Williams, and Andale defensive lineman Anthony Capul scooped up the fumble and returned it 20 yards untouched. Just like that, Andale led 14-0.
“Just a few minutes into the game, it felt like, ‘Hey, we’re right back there in the saddle again,’ ” Andale coach Gary O’Hair said.
Buhler was never able to stabilize. Two straight possessions ended due to miscommunication in the passing game.
In the mean time, Buhler’s front seven defenders were turned into bystanders as Andale charged up and down the field. After four possessions, Andale led 29-0, the game essentially decided.
“It was very disappointing that they won the line of scrimmage like they did,” Buhler coach Steve Warner said. “Our linebackers did not play as well as we expected them to, so we’ve got some things we’ve got to get fixed.”
Andale’s system is usually capable of producing a few big runs here and there, but Andale coach Gary O’Hair could not tell you if his team would be able to run the ball consistently entering Friday.
Not only were the Indians able to, they rarely faced a challenging third down distance. Andale converted four of its five third downs in the first half, and picked up the other on fourth down.
Andale’s starters finished with 360 rushing yards on 48 carries, comfortably gaining over seven yards per carry.
“If they’re not going to stop it, then we’re not going to stop running,” Knoblauch said. “We’re going to shove it down their throats and keep going and going.”
The lone consolation for Buhler was the play of Williams, its junior quarterback. He accounted for 365 total yards, including 207 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Buhler out-gained Andale 438 yards to 365, but committed three turnovers and converted just three of its nine third downs.
It wasn’t the rousing performance Warner wanted to see to begin Buhler’s title defense, but as he pointed out after the game, last year’s team lost to Andale in the regular season and went on to win the program’s first championship.
“Losing to Andale was the best thing that happened to us last year,” Warner said. “The bad thing this year, though, is that it’s in game one, instead of game seven.”
A—H. Knoblauch 4 run (Walstad pass failed)
A—Capul 20 fumble recovery (Hermreck pass from Walstad)
A—Eck 20 run (Capul run)
A—Eck 1 run (Johnson kick)
B—Engelland 1 run (Wolf kick)
B—Wolf 1 run (Wolf kick failed)
A—Eck 31 run (Walstad pass failed)
A—H. Knoblauch 5 run (Walstad pass failed)
B—Williams 7 run (Wolf kick)
Rushing—Buhler, Williams 20-207, Engelland 11-61, Wolf 3-16; Andale, H. Knoblauch 24-221, Eck 11-99, Capul 5-23, Walstad 7-14, B. Knoblauch 1-3, Jansen 1-2, Reichenberger 1-2, Richter 1-0, Maus 1-(-1).
Passing—Buhler, Williams 10-24-1-158; Andale, Walstad 1-2-1-2.
Receiving—Buhler, Wolf 4-66, Stiles 2-42, Shantz 2-29, Ridder 2-21; Andale, Reichenberger 1-2.