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New Life Academy football: Eagles prove mettle in opener

In its first game in a new conference, the New Life Academy football team proved it could hang with the big boys.

This fall, New Life Academy is leaving the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association and joining the Tri-Metro Conference.

In a thrilling see-saw battle with one of the Tri-Metro Conference favorites, New Life Academy journeyed to Breck for the 2011 season opener and was nipped 19-18 on Friday night, Sept. 2.

"We were disappointed to lose, but proud of our efforts and resiliency against a very good opponent," NLA head coach Paul Mork said.

Against Breck, ranked 10th in Class AA, and one of the top high school quarterbacks in the state of Minnesota this year in Austin Lommen, the Eagles parlayed a strong running game with physical, swarming defense and almost pulled off the upset.

Breck scored first on a 21-yard bomb by Lommen to Kasey Robinson for a 7-0 lead. In the second quarter after a sustained drive, the Eagles got into the end zone, on a 10-yard scamper by senior running back Jordan Nieuwsma, but failed to convert the extra point and the game was 7-6. NLA senior Max Mattila then picked off a Lommen pass and took it to the house for a 26-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 12-7 lead. However, Breck moved ahead in the third quarter, but missed their extra point as well, making it a 13-12 deficit for NLA. Again, with a strong ground game, the Eagles regained a lead in the fourth quarter on a three-yard run by Matt Michaud. NLA's ensuing two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful and the score was 8-13. However, with 5:12 remaining in the game, Breck rallied with a 55-yard passing play from Lommen to Robinson to take a 19-18 lead and held on for the win, although New Life was threatening to score when intercepted with under a minute left.

Mork said the Eagles' offensive line gave co-captains Mattila and Nieuwsma running room and both performed admirably. Mattila racked up 125 yards and Nieuwsma had 97 yards in impressive first game action.

"Matt Michaud, Mattila and Jayme Nelson led some excellent pressure defense, especially after the initial drive of the game by Breck against the home team's vaunted passer and passing attack," Mork said.

New Life takes on St. Paul Academy/Mounds Park Academy on Friday, Sept. 9, at Park High School. SPS/MPA lost to St. Agnes 36-21 in their opener.