STATE FOOTBALL: Knights ready to make noise in state tournament

TYLER – It’s been 27 years since the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Knights played in the state tournament. That streak will end tonight when the Knights play Mountain Lake Area in the opening round of the 9-man state tournament in New Ulm.

“It’s huge,” RTR coach Josh Fredrickson said. “I think the biggest thing I’m noticing around here is the buzz. There is a lot of excitement in the school and in the community. I think it’s really huge for the fourth, fifth and sixth graders. They get to watch this team at state. If they work hard they can be here someday. Just the buzz around the program has been cool to see.”

RTR and Mountain Lake Area squared off earlier this year, with MLA coming out on top, 26-22. Since that loss the Knights have won seven straight and are playing their best football at the right time.

“That was the point of the year when we were still trying to figure some things out,” Fredrickson said. “Since then we’ve really nailed down some guys playing positions. Before that game we had guys on the defensive line playing a bunch of different spots. After that we narrowed down and found some roles for guys. I think guys have settled into their roles and are comfortable. I felt like after that week we made it a big focus on just doing our job and trusting the guy next to you.”

Mountain Lake Area, like RTR is peaking at the right time. Since they defeated the Knights, they’ve only lost one game and they are coming off an impressive 58-14 victory against Westbrook-Walnut Grove in the section championship.

“They are a tough team,” Fredrickson said. “We were up 22-12 with nine minutes to go and came back and got us. They have a really good ground game. I’m really impressed. They have a couple of good runners. I’m really impressed with their line. They have some big kids. They are strong and do a good job of spreading teams out. They have a lot of team speed.”

The Knights are known for their ground and pound attack. Fredrickson said the Knights will have to fight for every yard against Mountain Lake Area’s tough defensive front.

“They are one of the toughest teams we’ve seen defensively,” Fredrickson said. “I think they have a very aggressive front. They do a great job of stopping the inside run. They have very good linebackers. They blitz a lot. We have to do a good job of catching them off guard, maybe hitting the outside. Since we played them last time we’ve gotten a lot more confident and stronger up front. We have to be able to run between the tackles. I trust our guys up front to be able to step up to that challenge.”

In the first meeting the Knights lost contain on defensive a handful of times. Fredrickson said his team needs to stay disciplined on defense.

“Last time we were a little over aggressive at times,” Fredrickson said. “We have to do a better job of staying disciplined and keeping things contained. We can’t let them get outside of us. We have to funnel things inside to our linebackers.”

It all starts up front. If the Knights are going to win they are going to have to run the ball and stop MLA’s rushing attack.

“Mountain Lake Area is a really good team,” Fredrickson said. “They are going to come right at us. We need to stick to what we’ve been doing. We need to be able to run the ball and stop the run. If we can contain Mountain Lake Area’s ground game that will be the key. We need to stay hungry. We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve been playing some good football the last couple of weeks.”