Johnson pulls off second-half comeback against St. Anthony Village

submitted photo The 2018 St. Anthony Village High School football team went to state for the first time since 1999 and finished the season with an 8-3 record.

It was a frigid and snowy night at Park Center High School where the St. Paul Johnson Governors and St. Anthony Village Huskies went toe-to-toe in what was a tale of two halves on Nov. 8.

The two teams clashed in a Class AAAA state quarterfinal matchup and definitely set the bar for the kind of entertainment fans will see during this year’s tournament. 

Johnson was down 22-0, but somehow, some way, the Governors put up 24 unanswered points to punch a ticket to the semi-finals at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. 

“We always say ‘just one play’ and that’s what it was for us, it’s that simple,” said Johnson head coach Eric Moberg. “It was a team win and it’s all about the players.”

This is the first time this century that either team has clinched a state tournament berth. The Governors’ (7-4) last trip was in 1981 and St. Anthony’s (8-3) last appearance at state came back in 1999. A ticket to state was due for both these programs. 

St. Anthony Village took control from the get-go. A snapped ball went over the Johnson punter’s head and was recovered by a St. Anthony defender on Johnson’s own one-yard line, taking the ball in for a touchdown. After a successful two-point conversion the Huskies had an 8-0 lead. 

Early in the second quarter St. Anthony was down on its own 18-yard line. But with a solid running game by Johnathan Kieren and Troy Ellison, the Huskies were able to march down the field for a score. Ellison started the drive with a 46-yard run and Kieren finished it off with a 25-yard touchdown. St. Anthony stretched the lead to 16-0 after another two-point conversion. 

The most points Johnson had given up in a game was 21, and that happened during the team’s 21-19 loss to St. Paul Central in the first game of the season. 

St. Anthony put up its 22 points in the first half alone. The last score of the half for the Huskies came with four minutes left when Kieren recorded his third touchdown of the night. He was untouched for the 13-yard score. However, the two-point conversion was unsuccessful. 

St. Anthony dug the 22-point hole and threw Johnson right in there, but the Governors found a way to climb out. It started with 30 seconds left in the half; that’s when sophomore Joey Moberg found his older brother Luke Moberg for a 45-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion followed to bring the score to 22-8 at the half.

“All season we’ve always brought the game to teams, but that first half we sat back and let them take the game to us,” coach Moberg said. “In the second half we stopped sitting back and attacked like we normally do.”

St. Anthony may have dominated the first half, but Johnson had total control of the second. Although there wasn’t a score until the end of the third quarter, Johnson could be found in the trenches attempting to win whatever battle it could to win the war. It seemed like whenever there was a fumble, Johnson was there to grab the ball. Huskies head coach Todd Niklaus said that turnovers were ultimately the reason for the team’s second-half breakdown. 

“I said to the boys before they started to head for the busses that in the beginning of the season if we finished the season 8-3 and made it to state, would they all sign up?” Niklaus said. “They all said ‘Yes.’”

With a little under a minute left in the third quarter, Luke Moberg saw a pass coming from his brother and once it was in his hands, he bobbled it, but secured it for a 41-yard gain. 

That play put the offense near the goal line. A few plays later running back Daimarion Nelson pounded one in for a score and after a two-point conversion, Johnson had cut the deficit to only one possession, bringing the score to 22-16 with a whole quarter of football left. 

The Moberg brothers connected for one last touchdown. Joey threw a pass to Luke for a 30-yard gain. The next play, Joey found Luke again for a successful two-point conversion to lift Johnson to the 24-22 win.

Johnson will play the winner of Hermantown (9-1) and Willmar (9-1). That game was set for Nov. 10, past deadline for this edition of the paper. The semi-final matchup is set for Nov. 16 at 4:30 p.m. 


–Lucas Ailport can be reached at

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