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Football: WCA-Ashby, Pillager play in memory of Tyler Stone

With heavy hearts, the WCA-Ashby football team took to the field on Sept. 16, 2022, and played in memory of teammate Tyler Stone, who passed away in a car accident on Sept. 11, 2022. WCA-Ashby won the emotional game full of tributes, 35-13.

WCAA Seniors-DSC_4732.JPG
From left to right: West Central Area-Ashby seniors Brett Amundson (53), Parker Stach (32), Damon Sanstead (72), assistant coach Dave Stone, seniors Anthony Sykora (11), Cole Anderson (10), Beau Robinson (56), Peyton Hanson (25), Justin Blascyk (60), Blake Flint (73) and Isaac Kreft (75) hold up teammate Tyler Stone's jersey (65) after a 35-13 win over Pillager on Sept. 16, 2022. Tyler Stone, son of Dave, passed away after a car accident on Sept. 11, 2022. The West Central Area-Ashby community has mourned the loss of Tyler and has adopted the slogan "Stone Strong."
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press
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PILLAGER - The West Central Area-Ashby football team earned a 35-13 win over the Pillager Huskies in an emotional game after the Knights lost friend, teammate and classmate Tyler Stone who passed away in an automobile accident on Sept. 11, 2022.

“I think it was really weird coming into the game because everyone felt kind of numb,” WCA-Ashby head coach Nate Wood said. “It's been such a hard week; it’s felt like a month since we played a football game. No one really knew what to expect. I think we were able to get into the moment for a little bit as far as having a normal Friday playing football, getting excited and having fun. But it felt to me as the game went on, reality kind of kept creeping back in. And so then by the end, even though we won the game, it felt like it did again on Monday, where it all just hurts.”

Stone, who was in his senior year of high school, wrestled, threw for the track and field team and was an integral part of the WCA-Ashby football program that has seen a lot of success in recent years.

In Friday’s game, Stone’s jersey was laid on the WCA-Ashby bench along with his helmet for the entirety of the game.

“It’s hard not seeing him out there with us,” senior Anthony Sykora said. “I know he’s watching us up above and is cheering us on.”

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The Knights wore stickers on the back of their helmets that said, “#StoneStrong,” and the coaches, along with some fans, wore school athletic gear apparel with the same slogan.

Stone had a deep passion for football that was clear to those around him.

His fun-loving personality left a positive impact on those who knew him.

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Tyler David Stone, 18, of Hoffman, was a multiple sport athlete at West Central Area High School. Stone died on Sept. 11, 2022, from a two-vehicle crash in Grant County.
Contributed photo from Tammie Olson Photography

“He was my best friend,” Sykora said. “I'm heartbroken. It's still sinking into me, and I love him a lot.”

Wood’s message to the team before the game was simple and based on playing in the moment.

“I wanted them to use this as an opportunity to just get away from everything, block off the rest of the world and play football on a Friday night,” Wood said. “We wanted them to have some fun and not think about what's happening tomorrow or what happened this week and just live in the moment.”

Wood said the support that the community has gotten from many different groups has been great.

“It has been overwhelming,” Wood said. “Just the amount of support from high schools, from colleges to just individuals reaching out has been absolutely incredible. This really shows how much we all mean to everyone and how much we mean to each other. I think that's maybe the one positive that we can take away from this. Everyone matters. You mean a lot to everyone.”

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A funeral service for Stone is being held at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the WCA football field in Barrett, and visitation begins at noon until the time of the service.

As for the game itself, it started with a moment of silence to pay respects to Stone, Laney Danielson of Pillager and Conner Erickson of Brainerd.

Laney Danielson, 13, passed away on Sept. 4, 2022, in a boating accident. Her funeral services are on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Pillager Public School.

Erickson, 17, is a Brainerd High School football player who suffered a significant head injury in a game on Sept. 14. Erickson underwent brain surgery and is appearing to show positive signs of recovery.

The Knights received the ball first in Friday’s game. The Knights ran out with just 10 players on the field and all got down on one knee and had another moment of silence, as did the Huskies. The Huskies declined the delay of game penalty.

A few plays into the game, Sykora broke free on a 55-yard touchdown run to put the Knights up 7-0. Once in the end zone, Sykora pointed both pointer fingers in the air and gave a message to Stone.

“I pointed both fingers in the sky to say, ‘That was for you,’” Sykora said.

Sykora said scoring that touchdown felt different for him because Stone was one of the blockers that blocked for him.

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The Knights added two points to their lead after a high snap on a punt led to the Huskies surrendering a safety with just under seven minutes left in the first quarter.

Pillager got on the board with a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown by Eli Miller, near the midpoint of the second quarter, to make the score 9-7.

WCA added two more touchdowns at the end of the second quarter, with junior Brady Lindquist connecting with senior Cole Anderson on a 21-yard pass and Sykora connecting with Anderson on a 36-yard pass to take a 21-7 lead heading into halftime.

Read more football coverage from the Echo Press

On the Knights' first possession of the second half, Sykora broke free again for a rushing touchdown, this one a 74-yard rush that put the Knights up by three touchdowns.

Sykora rounded out the scoring for the Knights with another touchdown pass to Anderson at the end of the third quarter, this one from 19 yards out.

“I thought we were clicking pretty good when we had confidence,” Wood said. “Offensively, we liked how things were going and we were kind of in our tempo and getting after it. Then once something bad happened, it kind of set us back a little bit. And we started overthinking things again, and we went back to some of the mistakes we had done earlier in the year. But overall, I thought we blocked very well up front and played with a ton of grit in a really hard time.”

Pillager scored last on a four-yard rush from Christian Hooge to give Pillager 13 total points.

The Knights are now 2-1 (2-0 Section 6AA) on the season, and the Huskies are 0-3 (0-1 Section 6AA). The Knights have outscored their opponents 84-49 this season and have outscored their last two opponents 78-20.

WCA-Ashby returns home to face Hawley (1-2) at 7 p.m. on Sept. 23.

“Our coaches always preach about staying together and playing as a family, and they really mean that,” Sykora said. “That’s what we're going to do, and that’s what Tyler would want.”

WCA-Ashby - 9 12 14 0 - 35

Pillager - 0 7 0 6 - 13

SCORING -

1ST -

WCA - Anthony Sykora, 55-yard run, 11:10 (7-0 WCA)

WCA - Team Safety, 6:52, (9-0 WCA)

2ND -

PILL - Eli MIller, 62-yard interception return, 7:54 (9-7 WCA)

WCA - Cole Anderson, 21-yard reception from Brady Lindquist, 4:48, Missed PAT (15-7 WCA)

WCA - Cole Anderson, 36-yard reception from Anthony Sykora, 1:31, Missed PAT (21-7 WCA)

3RD -

WCA - Anthony Sykora, 74-yard run, 9:40, 2-pt conversion good (Lunquist to Anderson) (29-7 WCA)

WCA - Cole Anderson, 19-yard reception from Anthony Sykora, 2:08, 2-pt conversion no good (35-7 WCA)

4TH -

PILL - Christian Hooge, 4-yard run, Missed PAT, 11:18 (35-13 WCA)

Sam Stuve covers a variety of sports in the Douglas County area. He also is assigned to do some news stories as well.
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