One of the most prolific passing combinations in the storied history of St. Mary’s football occupies two spots on the 2017 Class AA all-state first team.
Quarterback Cole Gendreau and wide receiver Luke Kambeitz connected often this season while helping St. Mary’s capture its second consecutive state championship and fourth in the last five years. Gendreau, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior, completed 117 of 187 passes for 1,573 yards and 17 touchdowns. Kambeitz, a 5-9, 160-pound senior, had 49 receptions for 767 yards and nine scores.
"We probably threw the ball more this year than in all of the other years I've been here and a big reason for that was we knew we had the talent to do it," said St. Mary's coach Dan Smrekar, who just completed his 40th season as a head coach. "Cole and Luke were a great combination ... a big, big part of our offense."
Gendreau, a first-team selection last year, also rushed for 425 yards and 11 touchdowns on 83 keepers. He closed out his high school career with a 14-for-22, 167-yard, 1-touchdown effort in St. Mary's 31-12 victory over Fargo Shanley in the Class AA state championship game.
Gendreau, who started varsity games since his freshman year, had a hand in three state titles.
“Cole had an amazing career for us and he showcased his talents and his leadership in that championship game," Smrekar said. "He was a special talent and we won a lot of games because of his leadership and his ability to throw the ball and run with it. Coaches expect a lot from their starting quarterbacks, and Cole did it all."
Kambeitz had 37 more receptions than he did in 2016.
“Luke played a bigger role this year and he put together an outstanding season," Smrekar said. "He was our go-to receiver. Defenses knew all about him and tried to keep him from catching the ball, but he still made big catches and put up good numbers."
The Saints, who went 9-2, also put four players on the first-team defense – senior lineman Joseph Richter, junior linebacker Mason Spies, and senior defensive backs John Nordberg and Dylan Gross.
Richter, a 6-3, 230-pound defensive end, had a team-high 79 tackles heading into the state championship game. He had 20 tackles for a loss, five quarterback sacks, and 24 quarterback hurries.
“It's kind of unusual for a defensive lineman to be the team leader in tackles, but that's how good Joseph was," Smrekar said. "He had a big motor. He was our best pass-rusher, and very good against the run."
The 6-foot, 165-pound Spies had 52 tackles after 10 games.
"We moved Mason from safety to linebacker this year and it turned out to be a great move for us," Smrekar said. "He's a little undersized, but he played with a big heart. He got better and better each week."
Nordberg (6-3, 205) and Gross (5-11, 160) headlined a strong and experienced secondary for the Saints. Nordberg, who missed St. Mary’s last five regular-season contests because of an injury, but returned for the postseason, had 21 tackles and 10 pass break-ups prior to the state championship game, while Gross had 39 tackles, 11 break-ups and two interceptions.
“Coming into the season we felt that our strength on defense would be the secondary, mainly because of John and Dylan," Smrekar said. "John missed some games and we struggled while he was out because he's such an impact player. When he came back, we were a much better football team. Dylan was our shutdown corner. He was the guy who defended the other team's top receiver, and he did that well week after week."
Two other Saints, senior running back Jonah Krebs (6-1, 185) and senior linebacker Spencer Churchill (6 feet, 170), were named to the second team. Krebs carried 102 times for 830 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Churchill recorded 46 tackles, including 13 for a loss (through 10 games).
Watford City, 7-4 and a playoff semifinalist, has three first-team selections on defense – senior linemen Jaydn Ewing and Jackson Faller, and senior linebacker Jarek Hogue.
Ewing, a 6-4, 230-pound defensive end and the Class AA senior athlete of the year, registered 58.5 tackles and sacked the quarterback 10 times, raising his career total to 22. He had 13 tackles for a loss.
Ewing, who has committed to play football at North Dakota State University, also played tight end. He caught 20 passes for 334 yards this season.
Faller, a 6-3, 260-pounder, had 37.5 stops, including 11.5 for a loss.
The 5-10, 190-pound Hogue led the Wolves with 92 tackles. He also intercepted three passes.
“I thought we had the best front seven defensively of any team in AA. Jaydn, Jackson and Jarek were the heart of that defense,” said Watford City coach Justin Johnsrud. “Those three individuals are three of the best kids I have coached in my 18 years. Not only did all three have the physical abilities, they had the intensity and determination to be good football players.
“They were very coachable kids and a pleasure to be around,” he continued. “All three made plays all over the field and played with a physicality that you don’t often see in high school football. Jaydn and Jackson usually commanded a double team, or teams ran away from them. Because those two took up three or four blockers, Jarek was able to read and make plays and had the ability to do it.”
Watford City’s Brett Skarda, a 6-5, 190-pound senior wide receiver-linebacker who had 26 receptions for 547 yards and six touchdowns, is a second-team selection.