Albert Lea football pounds Tri-City United, snaps 32-game losing streak

Published 9:41 pm Friday, September 30, 2016

It was a long time coming for the Albert Lea Tigers football team.

Not only did it mark the Tigers’ first home football game of the season, but Albert Lea was also looking to put an infamous streak behind it — 32 losses in a row.

In front of a packed house with standing-room only seating, Albert Lea pounded Tri-City United in its Homecoming game, 21-6, Friday night.

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Seniors Ben Witham and Dylan Lestrud scored touchdowns, as did junior running back Jessie Hernandez.

Albert Lea’s defense forced Tri-City United into three turnovers, including a game-clinching from cornerback Alexander Goodmanson late in the fourth quarter.

Things didn’t start off well for the Tigers, though. On their second play from scrimmage, the Tigers fumbled the football and Titans took over with the ball deep in Tigers’ territory.

Perhaps this early-game adversity set the tone for the Tigers, because their defense responded by stuffing the Titans and forcing a turnover-on-downs.

Then, Lestrud took over. He gashed the Titans defense on three different occasions, getting the ball all the way down to the 1-yard line.

A couple of plays later, Hernandez got the Tigers on the board and the extra point made it 7-0.

The Titans would respond.

On fourth down, they pulled a fake punt, and Marty Kalina took the snap and ran 30 yards before he was taken down. Kalina would finish off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, but a missed extra point kept the Tigers in the lead.

In the second quarter, Tigers quarterback Sam Chalmers found Witham on a slant pattern and he did the rest, as he took it into the end zone for another touchdown.

The Tigers defense was suffocating, as they made it difficult for the Titans to gain yards. Penalties also didn’t help the Titans, as they made their fair share of mistakes that put them in bad positions.

The Tigers put more distance between themselves and the Titans when Lestrud came up with the biggest play of the game. On a fourth down from the Titans’ 18-yardline, Lestrud took the handoff from Chalmers and busted through the left side of the defensive line. Once he got past the first level of defenders, he turned on the jets and raced his way into the end zone to put the Tigers up 21-6.

In the fourth quarter, while Albert Lea’s offense chewed up the clock when it had the ball, its defense stood firm. At this point, the team could sense the dreadful streak would end and that the hours upon hours spent in the weight room this summer and on the practice field this fall would not go to waste.

The crowd started to feel a victory in its veins, too. The student section was loud and raucous the whole game, but even more so in the closing minutes.

Once Goodmanson’s interception virtually ended the game, players embraced one another on 

the sideline. The crowd grew louder. Parents stood and applauded the efforts of the hometown team. For the first time in 33 games, Albert Lea was going to come out on the right side of the scoreboard.

On the other side of the field, Tri-City United was in disbelief. The Titans were thoroughly outplayed and the Tigers were hungry.

After all, they hadn’t eaten for 32 games.

“It was a complete team victory,” said Tigers coach Corey Black said. “It was a long time coming, and a lot of credit needs to go to the 50 young men who persevered through all the doubt the past three years.”

Once the Tigers team had gotten a chance to celebrate amongst themselves, the student section rushed the field to join them. Friends of players were trying on helmets, shaking hands, hugging and giving congratulations. First-year head coach Black received a water bath, thanks to some of his players. He achieved his first victory of his young coaching career. Perhaps, there was no one person more excited and pumped up for his team than Black.

The Albert Lea football team showed Friday night that no matter how bad things get over the course of time, never give up.

Perhaps Black put it best.

“We made memories Friday, and nobody can take that away from us.”