Harding and Humboldt opted to co-op football teams this season for a variety of reasons.
At the top of the list was numbers. More kids on a team meant more depth for practice purposes, allowing the team to have a JV and a varsity team and not requiring kids to play every snap of every game.
But another side effect was the increased likelihood of being competitive. Yes, competitive in practice, with kids having more like-skilled players to drill against. But also competitive in games.
Harding and Humboldt have had moments in recent years — with a couple wins here and there — but sustained success is nearly impossible to obtain with limited numbers.
But now it feels a little more feasible. Heading into its season opener against Como Park — which blanked Humboldt 36-0 last season and beat Harding 32-12 — Harding-Humboldt, known internally as “H-Town,” had a sense of belief that it could finally compete with the Cougars.
For good reason. Harding-Humboldt jumped out to a 19-0 lead in the first half Friday at Como Park, and held on for a 25-14 victory over the Cougars. Harding-Humboldt players were jubilant exiting the field after their 1-0 start to the season.
“I feel really great about their excitement, because they aren’t surprised,” Harding-Humboldt coach Otto Kraus said. “They know that they earned a victory. They weren’t surprised that they got a win, because they saw the work that it takes to go do that and they did that work. … They’re starting to believe in themselves a little bit.”
Harding-Humboldt looked like a team with new life in the first half. Julius Trice got the scoring started with a 7-yard run in the first quarter. Jod’e Trice added a pair of scores — one rushing and one receiving — in the second frame. It was all Harding-Humboldt.
“That’s how football should feel,” Kraus said. “That’s what we were telling kids on the sidelines. When you’re focused and playing together, this is what football can feel like. We were just feeding off each other in that first quarter. It was really great. Couldn’t ask for a better start to the season.”
Como Park roared back from there. Jude Breen hit Matthew Corniea for a 15-yard strike late in the second to put the Cougars on the board before half.
Como Park cut the deficit to a one-score game 20 seconds into the final frame when running back Santos Aguirre, the team’s workhorse, plunged in from four yards out to make it 19-14. The Cougars’ defense — which featured a slew of new faces that Como Park coach Kirby Scull thinks got more comfortable as the game progressed — gave Harding-Humboldt’s offensive almost nothing over the final two quarters as the Cougars largely flipped the script.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that play hard,” Scull said. “I think, for the most part, they believe in each other, believe in what we’re trying to do. They kept playing hard and fighting and trying to do what they could to scrap and get their way back into the game.”
But the Cougars (0-1) couldn’t dig all the way out of the early hole, largely due to turnovers. Como Park lost three fumbles in the second half. Como Park lost the turnover battle 5-0.
“Which is, you know, kind of what decides football games,” Scull said.
Como Park’s essential last gasp came to an end with three minutes to play, when Harding-Humboldt’s Angelo Wilson returned an interception all the way down to the Como Park 1-yard line. Wilson noted it felt good to prove himself to his teammates — some old and some new — in a big moment.
Quarterback Jorge Irizarry snuck in for a score on the ensuing play for Harding-Humboldt to put the game on ice. The early success is bound to further solidify a new co-op between the two St. Paul schools that Wilson said is starting to feel like “a brotherhood.”
“Going into this game, we told them, ‘No matter what happens in this game, don’t let the game break what you guys have built so far,’” Kraus said. “And that’s the thing I’m the most proud of. We made mistakes, had big plays go against us, but they kept after it and didn’t fall apart. That’s all we wanted tonight.”