WABASSO - Thirty-three seconds.
With Wabasso up 22-18 late in the fourth quarter of the Section 3A championship game against Adrian, the Dragons pulled ahead, 26-22, with 33 seconds left.
Wabasso drove down the field in its final drive, but stalled out at the 16-yard-line, ending the Rabbits' chance to return to state for the first time since 2006.
Photo by Joe Brown
Wabasso senior quarterback Seth Guetter sets for a pitch while running an option run during practice Friday in Wabasso. Moving to Section 5A this fall, the?Rabbits look to return to state for the first time since back-to-back trips in 2005 and 2006.
That span of 33 seconds has been a driving force for Wabasso in the weight room this summer as the Rabbits prep for the 2012 season.
"It was really disappointing, that loss last year. We could have had that game," said senior quarterback/defensive back Seth Guetter. "We want to just play harder and try harder so we can get back to that spot and win that section championship game."
Senior running back/linebacker Blake Altermatt added, "We've been working all summer. We lost a lot of good guys, but I think our guys coming up know what they're doing and they're working hard.
2011 Record: 7-4
Southern MN Conference
Finish: 4th (5-3)
26-22 loss to Adrian
(Section 3A championship)
Points Allowed/Game: 13.6
DL Taylor Zuehlsdorf,
DL Aaron Brau,
RB/LB Cody Welch
RB/LB Blake Altermatt
RB Tanner Rohlik
"It hurt, and we just want to get to the state tournament. That's our goal every year. (The section loss) just pushes us even harder."
But while Wabasso looks at a return to the section finals, it won't be in Section 3A. The Rabbits, along with Southern Minnesota Conference foe Red Rock Central, were moved to Section 5A. There, Wabasso will be in a section with teams that have won two of the last three Class A state titles: Dawson-Boyd and Minneota/Lincoln HI.
"That's a heck of a section," said Wabasso head coach Joe Kemp. "We were in there, I don't know, four or five years ago, and we had success there. Dawson-Boyd, Minneota and us have traditionally very strong programs."
The Rabbits get an early section test when they open the season on Aug. 30 at home against the Vikings, who reached the Section 5A finals in 2011.
The competition will be tough in 5A, but it's certainly not a daunting task for the Wabasso players.
"We're not playing the same teams anymore, so they don't know us that well, and we don't know them that well," Altermatt said. "It's all new territory, and whoever wants it more will get it."
If the weight room attendance was any indication, Kemp knows he's got a group that's motivated to make a mark in the new section.
"(The returning players) hit the weight room and the underclassmen took that to heart," Kemp said. "I don't know if (the Adrian loss) was extra motivation to get to that section final. Our players have high aspirations every year."
Looking for a move up from a 7-4 finish in 2011, the Rabbits must replace a key group of seniors, including quarterback Mitch Rohlik and All-Area defenders Taylor Zuehlsdorf, Aaron Brau and Cody Welch.
Guetter and fellow senior Neil Eichten look to try and fill the void at quarterback left by Mitch Rohlik, while the veteran linebacker core of Tanner Rohlik, Tanner Bock and Mitch Altermatt look to anchor the defense.
"We got a lot of guys stepping up," Guetter said. "There's a lot of young guys stepping up, ready to play."
There are still some questions to answer for Wabasso: Who will emerge as the starting quarterback? Who will emerge as the leaders of the team?
The one thing the Rabbits seem to have no doubt about is being in the hunt for a section title.
"It'll be a dogfight," Kemp said. "It'll come down to who's healthy, whose underclassmen really step up and take the reins from what they lost. We all lost some awfully good players, so it'll be a battle."