By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Mankato West and Owatonna didn’t meet during the regular season, but if you looked ahead, you could see that Section 2AAAAA and Section 1AAAAA were scheduled to meet in the opening round of the state playoffs.
Turns out, these Big Nine Conference rivals will meet after all.
“I don’t mind,” West coach Mark Esch said. “We know what they do, and they know what we do. The most talented team that makes the most plays that night will win.”
West (4-6) takes on Owatonna (10-0) in the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAA football playoffs at 7 p.m. today at Lakeville North. It’s the fifth straight tournament appearance for the Scarlets, who lost in the semifinals last season.
While Owatonna is a familiar opponent, Esch said it’s not the same simple, hard-nosed offense for the Huskies.
“They do a little more offensively, spread you out,” Esch said. “They still do a lot of the old stuff so we’ll definitely have to stop the run. It will be interesting to see their athletes against our athletes. The key will be our ability to move the ball through the air.”
Quarterback Ryan Schlichte has completed 141 of 230 passes for 2,220 yards and 25 touchdowns, with Connor Watts grabbing a program-record 13 catches in last week’s overtime win at Chanhassen. Trenton Marks has rushed for 607 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Owatonna, which averages 277 yards rushing per game, is led by Aaron Peterson, who rushed for 301 yards last week against Rochester Mayo, bringing his season total to 1,125 yards and 20 touchdowns. Colton Schlock has completed 115 of 186 passes for 1,751 yards and 18 scores, with Luke Ebeling making 52 receptions.
For West, defensive lineman Alex Berglin remains sidelined with an ankle injury, but receiver Scott McKissick should play after missing the last game with a concussion.
Blue Earth Area (10-0) allowed only eight points in two Section 3AAA playoff games, but the defense’s toughest task to date comes Saturday against defending state champion St. Croix Lutheran (9-1) at Lakeville North. Game time is scheduled for 6 p.m.
St. Croix Lutheran averages 46.6 points — with the only loss coming to Class AAAA’s top-ranked De La Salle — by featuring a balanced option attack.
Jeremy Sievert has 720 yards and 10 touchdowns, with 223 yards and three scores coming in last week’s victory over Cannon Falls. Jackson Goplen had 143 yards and three touchdowns last week, bringing his season total to 633 yards and eight scores. Quarterback Lincoln Hochmuth has 608 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing and 772 yards and 12 touchdowns passing.
“This is going to be a huge challenge for our defense,” BEA coach Randy Kuechenmeister said. “Everybody has to do their assignment, and if someone messes up, (St. Croix Lutheran) can go the distance.”
The Bucs’ leading tackler is Carter Hanson with 96 tackles, while David Franta has 56 tackles. BEA allows only 51 yards rushing and 9.9 points per game.
Sibley East gets No. 1
The Wolverines haven’t been to a state tournament since 1986, when the school was known as Arlington-Green Isle, and their first-round opponent is two-time defending state champion Caledonia (10-0). Game time is 7 p.m. today at Burnsville High School.
Coach Chuck Hartmann said that Caledonia and his team have a lot of similarities.
“Both teams want to run the football,” he said. “Nothing exotic. Don’t give up many points, tackle well. Caledonia has tradition, but we’re preparing to win the football game.”
Erik Danielson leads the Wolverines with 1,274 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns, while Brody Rodning has passed for 653 yards and 11 scores. Tyler Bates has made 33 receptions for 554 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Caledonia is led by Brad Strub, who has rushed for 932 yards and six touchdowns. Jacob Swindell and Alex Varney have also rushed for six touchdowns.
“I think it’s going to be a good battle,” Hartmann said. “To get to the Dome, you need to have a fair amount of things go your way.”
Long layoff for Cyclones
St. Clair went to the state tournament four times between 1987 and 1992 but haven’t been back since. At 7 p.m. today at Southwest Minnesota State, the Cyclones (9-2) take on Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (8-2) in the Class A quarterfinals, the first time the program has competed in the state tournament as an 11-man program.
“Around the school and the town, there’s been a lot of excitement,” coach Chris Harvey said. “The community has come together, and it’s been really fun.”
Michael Nett is the Cyclones’ top rusher with 854 yards and eight touchdowns, John Goebel has 834 yards and nine scores, and Miklo Miller has 672 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Cyclones, who average 273 yards rushing per game, have only attempted 43 passes in 11 games, though of Blake Flowers’ 16 completions, seven went for touchdowns with six in the postseason.
Harvey said ACGC also features an old-school, run-oriented attack, averaging 254 yards rushing.
“It’s going to be a smashmouth game,” Harvey said. “The team that’s more physical is going to win.”