ESPN2 came to see Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell on Friday night. Instead, it got a whole lot of Stillwater Ponies.
Stillwater spoiled ESPN’s nationally televised introduction of the No. 1 junior prospect in the country as the Ponies beat the Raiders 21-7.
Cornell enjoyed the spotlight early and late, while the Ponies patched together a victory in between. Stillwater scored three unanswered touchdowns and shut down a pair of Cretin’s late pushes at a comeback.
“I feel like me and a lot of the team didn’t pay much attention to it [ESPN’s presence],’’ Stillwater running back Zach Knox said. ‘‘We knew what we really had here was a good football game to buy into. The game plan was to stick to our routes and go power, whether it be away from [Cornell] or toward him. He made some great plays, but a lot of the time we were able to block him ’cause we have a phenomenal line out there.”
Knox carried the ball 29 times for 135 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Trevor Tillett rushed for one touchdown and threw for another. He completed eight passes for 97 yards. Matt Anderson caught three of those passes for 41 yards and a touchdown reception.
Cornell’s chance to perform had to wait for 14 minutes after kickoff as his team’s offense opened the game with an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Quarterback Ricardo Johnson connected with receiver Tony Adamle on a 49-yard score.
During the drive, Cornell paced the sideline as he waited for his national debut. In several pregame interviews, he said if he messed up it would likely result in people speaking badly about him or doubting his national ranking.
Thanks to Stillwater running away from Cornell for the most part, TV viewers didn’t get many opportunities to critique. But when they did, he didn’t let them down. On his first real opportunity at a tackle, he forced a fumble. Stillwater recovered.
Cornell and the Raiders defense protected a 7-0 lead for most of the first half. They stuffed Stillwater on a fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line early in the second quarter. Stillwater’s gamble failed to produce points, but it led to good field position.
The Ponies started both their final two drives of the half in Cretin territory. Each led to a touchdown and a 14-7 halftime lead.
Stillwater’s first touchdown drive was set up by DJ Skie’s 48-yard punt return into the red zone. Knox capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.
On top of poor field position, the Raiders also were hurt by penalties. Several first downs were called back and eventually led to punts. Coach Mike Scanlan said these two factors were the difference in the game.
Stillwater’s offensive linemen also were a big factor. They visibly upset Cornell. Peter Palecek, a 6-4, 305-pound Stillwater lineman, got Cornell to react after pushing him several yards upfield.
Cornell declined to be interviewed after the game.
“I blocked him a couple yards back, and you could tell he was getting frustrated,” Palecek said. “We practiced for this all week.”
Cretin’s coaching staff moved Cornell to tackle to try to give him more opportunities at the ball. Cornell’s biggest play came in the final minutes when he stuffed Knox for a loss.
Knox said he never saw it coming but would trade a hard hit for a win any day. Especially on TV.