By Alex Oey
MINNEAPOLIS - Riding the momentum of its victory over Moose Lake/Willow River, the Minneota/Lincoln HI football team is preparing to face an opponent in the Class A State Football Tournament semifinals that is riding a different kind of momentum.
While the Vikings are a perfect 12-0 heading into today's contest at the HHH Metrodome, there opponent, Maple Lake ended the regular season on a three-game skid and a 4-4 record, which they've parlayed into an 8-4 record and trip to the state tournament.
"Of course we've talked about that a little bit with our kids," said Minneota/Lincoln HI head coach Chad Johnston. "When you look at their record at 8-4 and some of the teams they've been beaten by, the scores, you kind of think maybe they're not the team like some of the others we've played at this point are.
"But the fact of the matter is you're playing in the semifinals of the state tournament. Obviously, they've done something right to get here. Ever since that little skid they had, when they needed to, they've put together the games that won football games."
The Vikings reached the semifinals by defeating Moose Lake/Willow River 31-20 after trailing 20-10 at the half. The Irish defeated Pine Island 28-10 to advance.
Offensively, Johnston said Maple Lake gives them a look similar to the Paynesville Area team they met in the section championship.
"They're not a real big team. I would compare them a lot to the Paynesville team we saw. They are fairly quick up front, but not big," Johnston said. "They have a good fullback. They have a lot of stuff off their option. They will run a mid-line option and some speed option. It will be a team where we will have to have our responsibilities down for the option game and be prepared for that."
Johnston said Minneota/Lincoln HI won't stray far from their strengths offensively against the Irish.
"Our game plan is what it always is. Trying to mix in the run and the pass as well as we can," said Johnston. "From there, we'll have to try to figure out what they're trying to do to us defensively and figure out the best plays to counter that.
"What we've seen from them on tape would say they'll try to play a lot of man-to-man defense against us. Hopefully if they try to do that, we'll try to spread them out and get a few extra guys out of the box and get our running game going that way."
After battling the elements in addition to the Rebels in the last game, the Vikings are excited to be playing in the Metrodome for the Semifinals.
"The nice thing about it is there are no conditions now," Johnston said. "It's nice weather, it's nice conditions, it's a nice field."
Minneota/Lincoln HI is carrying a confidence into today's game, but according to Johnston, there's no arrogance about it.
"They are confident in what they can and continue to accomplish. Most of the time, talking to the kids, they tend to be very focused," said Johnston "Despite Maple Lake's record, they know they can't look past this or take this one for granted. The kids have been discussing this and they understand it.
"Really for us, its about focus. Taking away those mental mistakes. Not hurting ourselves offensively with penalties or busted plays, and defensively, it's the mental part. Make sure you know your responsibilities on option and take care of them."