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Mandan's Jackson Zittleman (7), picks up yardage as Grand Forks Central's Kaleb Johnson (24) tries to bring him down during Friday's Class AAA football game at Faris Field.

TOM STROMME, Tribune

St. Mary’s senior Cole Gendreau is a returning all-state player for many reasons, all of which were on display on Friday as the defending state champs opened the season with a 49-0 Class AA drubbing of Grafton.

Gendreau threw for two touchdowns and ran for another – all in the first half – as the Saints opened their season in impressive fashion. St. Mary’s has won three of the last four state titles.

Head coach Dan Smrekar said afterward that the defense that allowed the Spoilers just 83 yards on the ground – 47 on one play – is something he expects to see all year.

“Defensively I think you saw what we’re going to be like,” Smrekar said. “I think we’re going to bend and give up yards but as we get close to the goal line we’re going to stiffen and keep them out of the end zone.”

The Saints were able to go deep onto the bench and had seven players with at least 20 yards rushing.

“We had six different guys score. Good stuff,” Smrekar said.

Joey Heinert led the Saints in rushing with 51 yards and scored on an 8-yard run. Dawson Dosch had 44 yards. Joel Huber, after kicking six PATs, scored on a 27-yard run and ended with 33 yards.

Ben Schmidt ran twice for 32 yards, including a 24-yard TD.

Gendreau scored on an 8-yard run and tossed a 30-yard TD to Luke Kambeitz and a 15-yarder to Jonah Krebs. Gendreau completed six of 12 passes for 95 yards.

“We just tried to come out here, not take any plays off and play our brand of football,” Gendreau said. “I think (the line) held up really good. They worked smoothly.”

Gendreau said there really were no nervous tension before the game. “Not really. We just came out to play the game.”

St. Mary’s scored on its first possession to go up 7-0 when Gendreau hit Kambeitz on a slant for 30 yards and a TD. Huber’s first made it 7-0 at 7:33 of the first quarter. Kambeitz caught three passes for 50 yards.

The Saints went up 21-0 with touchdowns on two straight plays, interrupted only by a bad snap from center by the Spoilers.

The Saints’ second scoring drive covered 84 yards in nine plays. Of those, six plays resulted in first downs. With 5:27 left in the half, Gendreau rolled out and hit Krebs for 15 yards and a score.

On the Spoilers’ first play after the kickoff, the snap went between two players in the backfield and Connor Feist recovered for St. Mary’s on Grafton’s 9-yard line.

On the next play, Gendreau scored on a keeper with 5:00 left to play.

The Spoilers mounted a scoring drive late in the half, moving to the Saints’ 5 on a 47-yard run by Marcus Niemann and a 5-yard penalty. But a series of penalties moved them back to the 21 and the drive ended at half on downs.

Niemann, who took a number of direct snaps, led the Spoilers with 90 yards, 79 of those in the first half.

Grafton had just five first downs in the first half and 10 overall.

Krebs then opened the second-half with an 83-yard kickoff return untouched straight up the middle for a 28-0 lead.

Heinert’s 8-yard TD run with 1 second left in the third quarter set in motion the running lock.

Schmidt and Huber scored on straight dive plays in the fourth quarter.

“There were a lot of good things happen,” Smreakar said. “I think we had some first-game-getting-a-little-tired discipline mistakes. The offensive line played well and didn’t have any penalties.”

Grafton quarterback Dalton Albrecht was 8-for-22 for 81 yards.

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