MINNEOTA - When the Minneota Vikings take the field Saturday afternoon against Barnum in the quarterfinals of the Class A state tournament, they'll do so with an abundance of confidence for a number of reasons.
For one, the Vikings are coming off a dominant 40-7 win in the Section 5A championship against Dawson-Boyd, a team that handed Minneota its only loss of the season. They're also leading Class A in scoring offense (49.5 points per game) and are second in scoring defense (6.2 ppg). Not to mention, they're the defending Class A champions.
But what might give the Vikings the most comfort at kickoff is knowing their opponent inside and out.
Independent file photo
Minneota running back Brandon Anderson (42) carries the ball during the last Friday’s Section 5A title game against the Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks. Anderson and the Vikings begin their run for the Class A state title at 3 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium on the campus of St. Cloud State University.
Before Saturday's game, the Minneota players will have watched tape on the Bombers three to four times, while some of the coaches will have watched film even more than that.
Of course, a lot of the Vikings' recent success has come from having one of the most talented teams in the state. But to get the most out of that talent, it's been the time put in behind the scenes that has helped separate Minneota from the pack.
"I think with small-town football, probably the difference between a lot of good programs and the average programs might be the time spent preparing for teams and the time spent watching tape," said Chad Johnston, who has been the head coach of the Vikings the past nine years. "We really try to push to get the kids to watch things, and that's key. That's the mental preparation for the game and hopefully that prepares them to be ready for the things they're going to see."
It doesn't take a lot of pushing to get the Vikings players to sit down and break down film. Junior linebacker Adam Josephson said the players gather outside of practice time to go over tapes of their opponents, or of the Vikings' previous games.
"Every Sunday night we try to get together at somebody's house and then we usually have another film session the night before a game or a Wednesday night after church," said Josephson, who leads the Vikings with 109 tackles. "We just get everybody together and try to get everything down so that we know what our keys are and we just try to get everybody on the same page."
Studying film played a big part in helping the Vikings handily defeat Dawson-Boyd last Friday.
In the previous matchup between the teams, a 28-20 Blackjacks' win on Oct. 8, Dawson-Boyd held Vikings running back Brandon Anderson to 75 yards rushing. After taking a look back at that game, the Minneota coaches tweaked some of their blocking schemes and the result was Anderson racking up 239 yards on 35 carries with two touchdowns in a runaway victory.
The Vikings' knowledge of their opponents' offensive gameplans has also played a big part in helping them compile five shutouts so far this season.
Josephson said the defense frequently knows what is coming out of each formation and has a plan to stop it.
"A lot of the time our coaches put us in position to make plays, like a lot of blitzes get called and we put ourselves right in the spots to make plays. It's pretty easy," he said.
Running a complex offense and defense, Johnston said his players wouldn't be able to achieve the success that they have without a high football IQ, which has come with all the pregame preparation.
"Over the past few years we've always said that we're not a 'keep it simple, stupid' type of program, and that's on both sides of the ball," Johnston said. "We're not going to line up on defense and give the same look the whole game most of the time. Some weeks it's going to be that way, but we're going to change looks and mess with blocking schemes and mess with quarterbacks a little bit. So our kids need to be knowledgeable. They need to be able to make the adjustments so we don't have a breakdown.
"Offensively, it's the same thing. Our scheme is not an easy scheme to pick up. It's a lot of repetition. It's a lot of watching tape. But we've got to have the right kids to be able to do it and the dedication and the time they spend to prepare is what allows it to work."
With each new game comes a new challenge, and Johnston said Barnum could be a tricky team to figure out.
The Bombers' double-wing offense has produced a lot of yards on the ground, with two backs rushing for more than 1,000 yards so far this season.
Josh Hogan, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound back, provides the power for Barnum, racking up 1,600 yards this year, while 5-6, 150-pound Hector Chavez has used his speed and shiftiness to rush for 1,142 yards.
Barnum's passing game has been virtually nonexistent, as quarterback Robert Minkkinen has completed just 10 passes in 26 attempts.
Johnston said he's been trying to convince his defensive linemen that they're not going to get many tackles against the double-wing offense and will likely see a lot of double teams. That will leave the the Minneota linebackers and defensive backs to make a lot of the plays on defense.
Coming off a strong showing against a tough Blackjacks team last week, the Vikings seem poised to defend their championship and make a run at the school's fifth state title. But Josephson said Minneota isn't going to hang its hat on the team's past success.
"We're kind of a different team than we were last year," Josephson said. "We're kind of out there to make a name for ourselves. We're just working hard and trying to do good things and if it happens, it happens. We're just our there working hard to try to meet our goals."