Who had Minneota off to a 6-0 start this season and tied for the No. 1 ranking in the Class A state football poll at this point?
Not many people outside of Minneota.
The Vikings have opened eyes around the area with their start. It appears Minneota is headed for a collision course with Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in the final game of the season where both teams could be undefeated at 7-0 and fighting for the Little Sioux Conference title.
Photo by David Griswold
Minneota wide receiver Tony Noyes hauls in a catch that went for a touchdown against Little Sioux rival Dawson-Boyd earlier in the season in Dawson. Minneota sits at 6-0 on the season, tied with TMB atop the conference.
Minneota head coach Chad Johnston hopes that's the case.
"We've talked about TMB with the guys," Johnston said. "We don't want to look past anybody, but we do know what could take place. We have to take care of business before we get to that game. But the kids want the game to be two 7-0 teams going up against each other. It would be a phenomenal game between two great teams. We're just trying to take things in perspective and take on game at a time."
Spoken like a true football coach.
The biggest reason for Minneota's surprise season is due to the loss of running back Craig Peterson to graduation. Peterson led the Marshall area in rushing last season with 1,769 yards on 280 carries and 18 touchdowns. Peterson won the area rushing title by more than 400 yards. That's how solid he was for the Vikings.
"Craig was a great running back and he did a wonderful job. But he had to do a lot of things by himself. The kids around him last year were really young. Brandon Anderson has done a phenomenal job stepping in. He was our backup quarterback last year and he's looking really good. One of the big benefits for Brandon is that our line is back. We have a lot of experience there. They're doing a good job of opening that initial hole and he just does the running after that."
The Vikings went a respectable 6-4 last season and had a 5-3 mark in the Little Sioux. But it was Minneota's final game of the regular season last year that might have been an indicator of things to come this year. The Vikings hosted TMB and gave the Panthers their toughest test of the season.
Minneota's defense held TMB quarterback Isaac Dolan to 10-of-17 passing for 173 yards with a touchdown and interception. The Vikings didn't want Dolan to beat them through the air, so they tried to put as much pressure as they could on Dolan to make him run. While the strategy worked to a certain extent, the Panthers still pulled out the win on a rainy, cold October night.
"It gives us a lot of confidence knowing we can play with them," Johnston said. "It might also give them (TMB) more motivation to play us this year. I don't think they were expecting that type of effort from us last year. We know we can play with them and I know that should help us get up for this year's game."
The Vikings had young players at key positions last season, but now those players are a year older. That's also been a big reason why Minneota is where it is.
"Most of our kids got playing experience last year," Johnston said. "We have a good core back from last year. I also think we've faced some teams who are down this year. That kind of helps some confidence. We played against really good competition last year and that's helped for this year."
Minneota's ability to adapt has also been key. The Vikings have suffered numerous injuries along the offensive line this season.
The Vikings have started sophomore Jacob Horner at center, senior Jared Longtin at right guard, junior Mike Hammer at right tackle, junior Adam Longtin at left tackle and have rotated juniors Victor Montelongo and Alex Christensen at left guard.
Jared Longtin had knee surgery right before the season started. He sat out the first few games and junior Justin Fox replaced him at right guard. Fox now sees time at left tackle. Hammer has been the staple of the line, having started all last season and this season. Other minor injuries have forced Adam Longtin to play center. In all, eight different players have played on the line for Minneota.
"It says a lot about our kids that they're able to adapt like they have," Johnston said. "Justin Fox is playing right guard one week and playing left tackle the next. It says a lot about what we can accomplish, too. Our kids have faced adversity and gotten past it."
The Vikings have rushed for 1,032 yards this season and have passed for 751. The balance for the offense is partially due to the leadership of junior quarterback Sam Derynck, who started as a sophomore last year. Derynck is 48-of-892 passing for 723 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.
"We do have better balance this year," Johnston said. "There's no doubt about it that we relied heavily on Craig last year. This year, we're mixing it up better. Sam's been able to throw the ball better and loosen some teams up with the pass. That allows us to run it later in the game."
Minneota, who had the No. 1 seed in Section 5A headed into this week, has a tough section with the likes of KMS, Dawson-Boyd, BBE, Lakeview and RCW hanging around. But after handling D-B easily earlier this season, it appears the Vikings are the favorites to win the section title.
Who would have thunk it? Well, Johnston would have.
"The kids have confidence in their abilities," Johnston said. "I really think they feel good about what we can accomplish in the playoffs. It would definitely be nice to secure a lot of home games."
Even a possible loss to TMB couldn't take off the shine of making a run at the Metrodome.