CLASS A CHAMPIONSHIP: State Champs
Minneota uses ground game to beat Wabasso, win third state title in four years
MINNEAPOLIS – A year ago the Minneota Vikings bid for a third straight state championship was cut short by the Wabasso Rabbits in the section tournament. On Saturday the Vikings got back on top of the mountain by defeating the Wabasso Rabbits, 28-13 in the 1A state tournament championship.
“It feels awesome,” Minneota coach Chad Johnston said. “To get to experience something like this with a different group of kids is special. Some of these guys have been here and other guys haven’t been able to experience that. We try to tell these kids not take these experiences for granted. What this group has been able to accomplish the last few years is impressive. They worked hard to get to this point and deserve it.”
With the passing game sputtering early the Vikings turned to senior running back, Isaac Hennen. The Mr. Football finalist responded in a big way. In his final game as a Viking, Hennen churned out 291 yards and three touchdowns.
“We have the best football player in the state and he just dominated today,” Minneota quarterback Alex Pohlen said.
Hennen said that his success would not have been possible if it weren’t for the play of the offensive line.
“They all played great again today,” Hennen said. “It’s been a great season for them guys. I think they surprised the whole section and state. We lost four of the five starters from last year. They just came out today and did what they’ve been doing all year. It’s was great to get the ball and make one guy miss and have open field in front of you. They did a great job today.”
Nick Altermatt, one of the Wabasso team captains said that the Vikings wore down the Wabasso defense.
“We were sticking with them,” Altermatt said. “I think they wore us out. The defense was on the field for a long time. They kept pounding it right at us. They are a good team and they have good runners.”
The Rabbits controlled the tempo of the game in the first quarter, and it all started when the Rabbits forced the Vikings to go three and out on the opening drive of the game.
Wabasso’s defense forced another three and out deep inside Minneota territory. Altermatt came through the line on the punt and blocked it to set the Rabbits up inside the Minneota five-yard line.
“We worked on it Thursday in practice,” Altermatt said. “I don’t think they saw it coming. That set the tone for the first quarter.”
Cooper Taylor scored from one-yard out two plays later to put the Rabbits up 7-0 with 1:26 remaining in the first quarter.
The Vikings were marching and appeared to be on their way to tying the game up on the next drive. That’s when the Rabbits defense came up with a big play. Wabasso’s Jacob Plaetz picked off Pohlen to put a stop the Minneota drive.
Following the interception the Rabbits marched down the field and faced a fourth and four from the Minneota 10-yard line. Coming out of a timeout the Rabbits opted to go for it, instead of attempting a field goal. It was a decision that proved to be a turning point in the game when the Vikings came up with a huge defensive stop.
“I think it had something to do with it,” Kemp said. “I was ready to kick the field goal, but I trust these guys a lot. These guys wanted to go for it and if they were confident. I’m not casting any blame on these guys. I’m just saying that they are that confident and I believe in them.”
Following the key defensive stop the Vikings turned to Hennen. The senior running back carried the ball nine times on a 10-play drive. Hennen capped off the drive with a 24-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 late in the second quarter.
“We knew this was going to be a physical game and we were going to have to respond to that and execute,” Johnston said. “I think that’s something we did extremely well on that drive. We put a hat on a hat and created some holes. Isaac ran hard. It was just a nice drive to wear them down a bit. It was huge for momentum after getting the stop and getting into the end zone like that.”
The Rabbits received the opening kick in the second half, but were unable to move the sticks and went three and out. Kemp said that the Rabbits struggled to consistently move the ball against the aggressive Minneota defense all day.
“They were bringing guys at the point of attack,” Kemp said. “They were coming downhill hard. We had a few opportunities, but not enough. We missed a few blocks. They were going to come downhill fast and make you make plays downfield.”
Johnston said he was pleased with his team’s defensive performance against a good Wabasso offense.
“I was extremely happy with what we did defensively,” Johnston said. “Wabasso is a good football team. I thought we did an excellent job all around.”
The Vikings took their first lead of the game at the 6:21 mark in the third quarter off an Alex Pohlen keeper, going up 13-7. Minneota would miss the extra point though keeping the deficit at just six points.
The Rabbits trailed the Vikings by that six-point margin to start the fourth quarter, but started the final quarter with the ball inside Minneota’s 40-yard line. Wabasso tied the game at the 11:23 mark off a Kyle Jacobson rushing touchdown, but another missed extra point kept the Rabbits from taking the lead.
The Vikings wasted little time in regaining the lead. With Minneota near midfield, Hennen found an opening and broke free, scoring his second touchdown of the game on a 54-yard run to put the Vikings up 19-13. Hennen then converted a key two-point conversion to give the Vikings a 21-13 lead.
“They starting going unbalanced and coming down hill at us,” Kemp said. “Minneota’s offensive line was really good today.”
The Rabbits had an opportunity to piece together a drive to tie things up, but Minneota’s Cole Sanow picked off Altermatt with 3:40 left in the game to set the Vikings up at the Wabasso 34-yard line. A few plays later Hennen scored his third touchdown of the game to put the Vikings up 28-13 with 2:22 left in the game to clinch the 1A state title for the Vikings.
The game was the final game for 13 seniors that helped the Rabbits make back-to-back state tournament trips.
“I had to start a bunch of them when they were freshmen and we went 5-5 that year,” Kemp said. “Most of these guys have been apart of 30 to 35 wins. That’s kind of unheard of. The other guys across the field have the same type of kids. They worked hard and set the standard here. What they did for our football program is going to pay off in the future.”
Minneota 28, Wabasso 13
Wabasso 7 0 0 6 – 13
Minneota 0 7 6 15 – 28
Wabasso: Cooper Taylor 1 yd run (Colton Taylor kick).
Minneota: I. Hennen 23 yd run (Pohlen kick).
Minneota: Pohlen 1 yd run (Kick failed).
Wabasso: Jacobson 1 yd run (Kick failed).
Minneota: I. Hennen 54 yd run (2-pt. conversion run by I. Hennen good).
Minneota: I. Hennen 15 yd run (Pohlen kick).
Passing (comp-att-yds-td-int): Minneota (Pohlen 4-13-34-0-1); Wabasso (Altermatt 7-18-0-1; Colton Taylor 1-1-25-0-0).
Rushing (att-yds-td): Minneota (I. Hennen 34-291-3; C. Sanow 6-25-0; Pohlen 3-18-1; Abraham 1-6-0; Gilbertson 1- -2-0); Wabasso (Cooper Taylor 16-74-1; Altermatt 12-64-0; Jacobson 8-23-1; Colton Taylor 2-5-0; Schmiesing 1-1-0).
Receiving (rec-tds-td): Minneota (T. Hennen 2-24-0; Gilbertson 1-8-0; I. Hennen 1-2-0); Wabasso (Colton Taylor 5-21-0; Franta 2-35-0; Kuehn 1-5-0).