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Bluejays top Tigers in opener

Albert Lea's Jesse Hernandez carries the ball Saturday against Waseca at Jim Gustafson Field. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Albert Lea’s Jesse Hernandez carries the ball Saturday against Waseca at Jim Gustafson Field. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

In the first game of the first year of the South Central District, the Albert Lea football team struggled.

Waseca shut out the Tigers 34-0 Saturday at Jim Gustafson Field.

“They played a lot better than us,” said Albert Lea coach Kevin Armbrust. “That was the difference. They were physical and we weren’t.”

In the first quarter, the Tigers entered the red zone twice but came away empty.

After the Bluejays took a 7-0 lead, Albert Lea’s Dylan Lestrud made a tackle for loss and blocked a punt on consecutive plays, which set up the Tigers in Waseca territory. Albert Lea moved the ball to the 12-yard line on a 33-yard pass from Jake Kilby to Jack Buendorf, but the drive stalled, and the Tigers turned the ball over on downs.

“We didn’t execute,” Armbrust said. “Missed blocks. Penalties.”

At halftime, Waseca led 20-0. After three quarters, Albert Lea’s deficit grew to 34 points. In the fourth quarter, the Tigers held the Bluejays scoreless.

“The defense came together at the end,” Armbrust said.

Emmitt Stevens led the Tigers with 11 tackles, and Tristan Johnston added 10.

Jake Kilby led the Tigers’ rushing attack with 14 carries for 99 yards. Ben Witham added eight carries for 24 yards.

Through the air, Kilby was 4-of-15 for 68 yards and two interceptions. Sam Chalmers had two receptions for 31 yards.

The last time the Tigers played the Bluejays was in the 2012 Section 1AAAA playoffs. Albert Lea won 14-9 after losing 42-7 against Waseca in the regular-season opener that year.

The Tigers will look to improve throughout the season again.

Albert Lea will play eight regular-season games this year, just like last season. The average enrollment last season of the Tigers’ opponents — all teams from the Big Nine Conference — was 1,075. With district scheduling this year, Albert Lea’s opponents’ average enrollment is less than half: 523.

Last season, Waseca was ranked No. 9 in the final Class AAAA Associated Press polls with a record of 9-2. The Bluejays are one of two ranked teams from last season that are on the Tigers’ schedule this year. The other team is Marshall, a squad that was ranked No. 8 and went undefeated during the regular season before losing its first section playoff game against Waseca.

Next, Albert Lea will play a pair of teams that had losing records last year in hopes of snapping a losing streak that dates back to the 2012 win over Waseca.

The Tigers will play at Belle Plaine, a team that was 5-6 last season, at 7 p.m. Friday. Then, Albert Lea will host Worthington, a team that went 4-5 last season, at 7 p.m. Sept. 4.