Defending Class 4A Prep Bowl champion Holy Angels returned just four starters, but three of them accounted for touchdowns Friday in the season opener against Hill-Murray.
Quarterback Rook Rowe began the Stars' 34-7 rout of the Pioneers with a touchdown pass. Mitch Hendrickson returned a kick for a score, and Thomas Shelstad bulled his way across the goal line.
Stars coach Jim Gunderson applauded his leaders' efforts, which helped a growing team overcome a few miscues on the road.
"We had some really great plays where kids flashed, and then we had some plays where we didn't execute the way an experienced team would execute," Gunderson said.
Holy Angels enjoyed a surgical start. The defense pinned back Hill-Murray on a pair of three-and-outs and created a short field for the Stars offense. Touchdown drives of 25 and 32 yards gave Holy Angels a 14-0 lead.
"It's not offense and then defense. It's how each one sets the other one up to do their job," Gunderson said.
Big plays from each team followed. First, Hill-Murray's Octavius Wilson Jr. diagnosed a Stars passing play, intercepted the ball and sprinted 88 yards to the end zone.
"By the time I reached their 40-yard line I was gassed, but I had to push because we had to put some points on the board," said Wilson Jr., who recorded the first of his defense's three turnovers.
The big play didn't rattle Holy Angels. The ensuing squib kick bounced toward Hendrickson, who corralled it and dashed 64 yards for a 21-7 lead.
"That's what you hope, your play-making athletes being ready for what we call the moments of truth," Gunderson said. "That was one of those moments where we seized momentum."
An injury to Hill-Murray starting quarterback Alex Bloemendal brought backup Cam Pogreba under center. But the offense struggled throughout the game and didn't get a first down until the game's final play.
To make matters worse for the Pioneers, Stars linebacker Reed Lewis returned an interception 54 yards for a 27-7 lead in the third quarter. Lewis flashed the soft hands he brings to the baseball diamond as the Stars' catcher.
"We knew he was going to catch it, we just didn't know if he was going to make it to first," Gunderson said jokingly.
Afterward, both teams talked about improving.
"We have to make that jump forward," Gunderson said. "And I know we have a hardworking bunch of guys who want to work to get better."