By PATRICK SLACK
Trailing 14-13 with seven minutes left in its season opener at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (LPGE), Aug. 30, Royalton football senior Luke Wentland lined up for a punt return.
Wentland, out for the sport for the first time since his freshman year, fielded the ball on his own 12-yard line, found a seam and took off on an 88-yard, game-winning touchdown return in the Royals’ 19-14 victory.
“It is nice to have Luke back out for football,” Royalton head coach Jamie Morford said. “He stepped up big tonight.”
The Royals got on the board first on a 3-yard touchdown run by Jordan Smieja in the opening quarter, followed by an extra point by junior Cade Stang.
LPGE cut the gap to 7-6 early in the second quarter, but junior Tony Gadacz powered his way into the end zone from two yards out to put the Royals back up by a touchdown at the half.
The Thunder countered with another touchdown and two-point conversion in the third to take a 14-13 edge into the final quarter, setting up Wentland’s return.
Senior Tyler Hegna was the leading rusher for Royalton, carrying the ball seven times for 69 yards.
Stang and Gadacz added a combined 89 yards on 10 carries apiece.
Senior Jack Fulford led the Royalton defense, picking up 10 tackles.
Junior Austin Schmitt and sophomore Jake Wentland each added a sack and sophomore Kyle Billmeyer forced and recovered a fumble.
“It’s always nice to start out the season with a win,” Morford said. “The boys played hard and fought well against a very tough, power football team in LPGE, but if we want to compete for a conference crown we have to play better football, eliminate the mental mistakes and take care of the football. We were lucky to sneak away with one.”