MINNEAPOLIS - After three years, the Minneota/Lincoln HI football team is going back to the Prep Bowl as it ran away with a 50-24 victory over Maple Lake in an MSHSL Class 2A State Tournament semifinal Thursday at the Metrodome.
The Vikings beat Adrian in 2009 to win a state title but, after losing in the semifinal the following year, they haven't been back since.
This is also Minneota's first year since being bumped up to Class 2A, making Thursday's victory even sweeter.
Photo by Stephen Wiblemo, The Hutchinson Leader
Minneota/Lincoln HI's Jordan Beck and Nathan Pavek celebrate after Beck caught his first of two touchdown passes from Austin Buysse against Maple Lake during the semifinal round of the MSHSL Class 2A Football State Tournament on Thursday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 50-24.
Photo by Stephen Wiblemo, The Hutchinson Leader
Minneota/Lincoln HI's Cole Hennen returns a kickoff 60 yards to set up a Vikings’ touchdown three plays later.
"It's a credit to the kids. We were thinking things would be more difficult in Class 2A because you get bigger teams and more physical play, but our kids responded well to it," head coach Chad Johnston said. "They've been determined from the very beginning to prove something, and I'm proud of them. Here we are, sitting in the state finals."
While Minneota's stout defense has been a big part of its success this season, it was the offense that led the way, specifically its rushing game as the Vikings gained 294 yards on 39 carries.
"We did some good things up front and made some holes. Our running backs ran well today," Johnston said. "When we needed to grind it out and take some time off the clock, we were able to do that."
Jeff Gladis led the Vikings' ground game with 171 yards on 18 carries, seconded by Nathan Pavek's 81 yards on nine carries.
M/LH quarterback Austin Buysse also had a good game, completing seven passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
What really helped Minneota's offense, though, was the excellent field position it had thanks to great punt and kick returns. All together, the Vikings had 78 yards in two punt returns and 109 yards on four kickoff returns.
"We take pride in special teams. It is a third of the game. People say 'you aren't on special teams a lot,' but it is a huge part of the game," Minneota's Jordan Beck said. "Momentum is a huge thing."
Although the Vikings didn't have their strongest defensive game, giving up 364 total yards to Maple Lake, they were able to make big plays when they needed to and really only allowed two touchdowns.
"Defensively, we weren't where we wanted to be, but our philosophy is bend, don't break," Beck said. "We bent as far as we could, came up with some big plays and did what we needed to do."
Minneota was forced to punt on its first possession, but that was the only time as it scored touchdowns on seven consecutive drives after that.
Following the punt, Maple Lake drove down to Minneota's 10-yard line but was hit with penalties and big plays and had settle for a 34-yard field goal.
On the following kickoff Cole Hennen returned it 60 yards before going down on the Maple Lake 20-yard line. Three plays later and Pavek scored the first touchdown.
Maple Lake came back with a quick 60-yard strike on the second play of its next drive, but the Vikings answered with a methodical 10-play grind that ended with a touchdown pass from Buysse to Beck.
Minneota's defense stood up and forced another punt to take over at the 50-yard line, and again it drove down the field on five plays for a Pavek touchdown.
The Vikings' led 21-10 at that point, but they couldn't get comfortable as Maple Lake returned the kick off 85 yards for a touchdown, and then pulled off a successful onside kick to put Minneota in a jam.
The Vikings' defense needed a big play, and it got one when Beck sacked the quarterback from behind and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Alec Engler and returned to Maple Lake's 37-yard line.
The Vikngs drove the rest of the way and ate up most of the clock before scoring on another 18-yard pass from Buysse to Beck for a 28-16 lead at halftime.
Maple Lake started the second half with the ball but punted it away after a few plays and the Vikings got another great return as Pavek went 55 yards to Maple Lake's 32-yard line. It only took a few more plays and Buysse ran in a 1-yard score.
With a healthy 36-16 lead, the Vikings needed one more stop on defense to stick a fork in Maple Lake. The Irish put together 14-play drive and got down to Minneota's 4-yard line, but on fourth-and-goal, Daniel Harrison got one of his two sacks to turn the ball over on downs.
"They did some good things to march down the field on us, but when we needed to get the stop we did," Johnston said. "When we had that big stop, I think it was kind of a momentum-gainer for us. That was a credit to our defense."
The rest of the game was downhill for Minneota, which scored two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter as Gladis punched in a 36-yard run and Brock Buysse ran one in from six yards.
"I knew our offense could move the ball, it was just a matter of when our defense was going to start making their plays," Gladis said. "When they started making plays, I knew our offense could come through."
The Irish scored one more TD with five seconds left in the game, but the Vikings were already getting ready to celebrate another trip to the Prep Bowl in two weeks.
Minneota/Lincoln HI 50, Maple Lake 24
Maple Lake9708- 24
ML - Charlie Stejskal 34 field goal, 6:34.
M/LH - Nathan Pavek 6 run (Diego Meza-Palmer kick good) 5:18.
ML - Cal Redemske 60 run (Tim Vogel pass failed) 4:32.
M/LH - Jordan Beck 8 pass from Austin Buysse (Meza-Palmer kick good) :03.
M/LH - Pavek 8 run (Meza-Palmer kick good) 8:34.
ML - Dusty Strub 85 kick return (Stejskal kick good) 8:19.
M/LH - Beck 19 pass from Buysse (Meza-Palmer kick good) 3:12.
M/LH - Buysse 1 run (Alec Engler pass from Buysse) 7:14.
M/LH - Jeff Gladis 36 run (Simon Ankersen kick good) 10:34.
M/LH - Brock Buysse 6 run (Ankersen kick good) 1:36.
ML - Zach Johnson 30 pass from Landon Caughey (Nick Gapinski pass from Johnson) 0:05.
Rushing (att-yds) - Minneota: 39-287; Maple Lake: 51-288
Passing yards - Minneota: 7-104; Maple Lake: 6-76
Total offense - Minneota: 391; Maple Lake: 364
First Downs - Minneota: 19; Maple Lake: 21
Penalties - Minneota: 4-40; Maple Lake: 3-15
Rushing - Minneota: Gladis 18-171, Pavek 9-80, Engler 5-21, Garrett Hennen 2-9, Brock Buysse 1-3, Brock Fox 1-3, Austin Buysse 2-(-2).; Maple Lake: Redemske 20-154, Trevor Borell 4-37, Nic Paumen 10-30, Dusty Strub 4-23, Caughey 10-22, Cody Bakka 2-17, Johnson 1-5.
Passing (comp-att-yds-td-int) - Minneota: Austin Buysse 7-11-104-2-0; Maple Lake: Caughey 6-9-76-1-0, Tony Goelz 0-1-0-0-0.
Receiving - Minneota: Beck 3-38, Pavek 2-21, Gladis 1-29, Engler 1-16; Maple Lake: Johnson 5-60, Redemske 1-1, Strub 0-15.
Sacks - Minneota: Daniel Harrison 2; Maple Lake: Dominic Kaley 1.
Tackles - Minneota: Pavek 8, Matthew Knutson 8, Harrison 6, Hennen 6, Leo Buysse 6, Engler 6.
Fumbles recovered - Minneota: Leo Buysse 1, Engler 1.