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CLASS A FOOTBALL: Battling to the end

Minneota falls to Mayer Lutheran in Class A championship game

Photo by Sam Thiel A group of Minneota defenders tackle a Mayer Lutheran opponent during their Class A championship game on Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minneota fell to Mayer Lutheran 20-14.

MINNEAPOLIS — With high-scoring offenses and stifling defenses on either side of U.S. Bank Stadium and a Class A championship trophy up for grabs, the Minneota and Mayer Lutheran football teams knew Friday’s matchup was going to be a challenging one.

Both teams held each other to a season low in points, but an early second-half touchdown by Mayer Lutheran proved to be the difference in a 20-14 victory for the Crusaders.

Minneota coach Chad Johnston credited Mayer Lutheran for utilizing their size and athleticism and forcing his team into making mistakes.

“We knew going into this game it was going to be a battle. Mayer Lutheran’s got a lot of athletes and a lot of talent, they’ve got a combination of size and speed, so we knew that we couldn’t make a lot of mistakes and we just made mistakes at crucial times that kind of put us in bad situations,” Johnston said. “You can’t afford to make those mistakes when you’re playing this type of a talented team; I don’t think we gave our best game, but a lot of credit has to go to Mayer Lutheran and the talent they have and what they were able to take away from us and what they were able to do offensively as well.”

Both teams went three-and-out on their first offensive possessions, but Minneota capitalized on its next possession as a run by Anthony Rybinski got the Vikings into the Mayer Lutheran red zone before Rybinski scored on a three-yard run to make it 7-0 with 3:12 left in the first quarter.

Minneota continued to hold onto that advantage into the second quarter, but the Crusaders had an answer, marching into Vikings territory before scoring on a 41-yard pass on fourth-and-five to draw to within one at 7-6 after the extra point was missed with 7:25 left in the first half. Mayer Lutheran’s defense then came up with a turnover on the ensuing Vikings possession, recovering a fumble at the Minneota 29. A couple of plays later, the Crusaders found the end zone on a 13-yard run to take a 13-7 lead with 7:05 to go in the frame.

The Crusaders would recover another fumble on the next possession, but couldn’t take advantage. After a couple of empty offensive trips, Minneota came up with a huge turnover, as Jackson Lacek recovered a fumble on a return to give the Vikings the ball back at the Mayer Lutheran 22-yard line with 44 seconds left in the half. Minneota took full advantage, with Isaac Pohlen connecting with Jonah Gruenes on a short pass before Gruenes bulldozed his way into the end zone – with the help of a few of his teammates – to put the Vikings back in front at 14-13 going into halftime.

Johnston said that was the momentum lift they needed going into the locker rooms, especially after trailing for most of the second quarter.

“I think it was huge. They kind of gave us the favor of giving us the ball in a situation that I’m sure their coach is probably not happy with and that was an effort thing. All of a sudden he’s just carrying everybody and gets some help from his teammates, that’s just 100% effort and it was huge,” Johnston said. “You always talk about going into halftime with momentum, we didn’t have a lot of it at that time; we’re down, they get the ball the first part of the second half so to me that was a huge play.”

After Mayer Lutheran got the ball to start the second half, they quickly marched into Minneota’s red zone. The Vikings were able to force the Crusaders into a fourth-and-one situation, but Mayer Lutheran found the end zone on a six-yard run to take a 20-14 lead with 8:09 left in the third quarter.

The rest of the third quarter went scoreless, but Mayer Lutheran had a drive going into Minneota territory to start the fourth. Minneota got the Crusaders to turn it over on downs on the 12-yard line, but the Vikings weren’t able to get anything going on offense and went three-and-out. Both teams continued to trade empty possessions throughout the frame, with Minneota facing multiple long-yardage situations on the offensive end and the Vikings couldn’t find the tying score en route to the 20-14 final.

Pohlen completed 10 of his 22 pass attempts for 104 yards and a touchdown for Minneota while Conner Sik led in rushing with 63 yards on 17 carries and Rybinski added 25 yards on three carries and a score. Rybinski also led in receiving with 63 yards on four catches while Jonah Gruenes added 27 yards on two receptions and a score.

Defensively, Tucker Thooft led Minneota with 10 total tackles while Peyton Gillund added eight total tackles.

Saluting the seniors

With the loss, Minneota finishes its season with an overall record of 13-1 and graduates 10 seniors in Thooft, Jonah Gruenes, Cale Sorensen, Sik, AJ Josephson, Cole Myhre, Landon DeSmet, Jayden Gamrak, Jackson Esping and Tyler Schmidt.

Johnston said all of the seniors have had a tremendous impact and have led by example and they’ll be missed next year.

“It’s been a great senior group. I think in sports, seniors usually provide a lot for you and if you have good numbers and good kids, it’s going to hopefully be in most cases good senior leadership,” Johnston said. “We’ve got a lot of quiet guys, but they show and lead by example. The senior group has been great for us all season and obviously have been a big impact on what got us here and what created this season this year.”

Mayer Lutheran 20, Minneota 14

Minneota 7 7 0 0 – 14

Mayer Lutheran 0 13 7 0 – 20

SCORING SUMMARY

First Quarter

Minneota: Rybinski 3 yd run (Gillund kick).

Second Quarter

Mayer Lutheran: Dennis 41 yd pass from Hoese (Kick no good).

Mayer Lutheran: Neitzel 13 yd run (Olsen kick).

Minneota: J. Gruenes 22 yd pass from Pohlen (Gillund kick).

Third Quarter

Mayer Lutheran: Neitzel 6 yd run (Olsen kick).

Fourth Quarter

No scoring.

Individual statistics

Passing (Comp-Att-Yds-TD): Minneota (Pohlen 10-22-104-1).

Rushing (Att-Yds-TD): Minneota (Sik 17-63; Rybinski 3-25-1; Josephson 3-13).

Receiving (Rec-Yds-TD): Minneota (Rybinski 4-63; J. Gruenes 2-27-1; Sorensen 1-16).

Defense (Total tackles): Minneota (Thooft 10; Gillund 8).

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