By Chad Courrier firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — As players went down with injury last week, Mankato West football coach Mark Esch was concerned that even if his team advanced, he might be running out of bodies.
But this week, most everybody has returned and is ready to take on No. 1-seeded Chaska at 7 p.m. today in the Section 2AAAAA championship game.
“I was a little worried on Saturday,” Esch said. “But I think we’ve had a great week of practice.”
Junior safety Nate Nelson will miss tonight’s game with a concussion and could return if the Scarlets advance to the state playoffs. Junior Ryan Schlichte, who also plays quarterback, will take his spot.
“We’re going to have to monitor him to see if and when we need to get him off the field for a break,” Esch said. “He’s pretty good back there.”
The Scarlets are already missing junior receiver Josh Athey, who suffered a broken collarbone in the the regular-season finale. Junior receiver Steven Nessler has been out all season with a stress fracture in his pelvis, but he might be available if the Scarlets keep playing.
Junior receiver Connor Watts left last week’s game with a shoulder injury but has been cleared to play. Senior receiver Will Claussen has been playing with a bad shoulder since Week 3. Senior lineman Josh Wold has also been playing with a sore knee, and he missed some snaps last week.
Esch said that Chaska senior Kolby Seiffert is a 1,000-yard rusher, and senior quarterback Justin Arnold is a dual threat to run and pass.
“They have a pretty explosive offense that will test our defense again,” Esch said. “And they’re fast on defense wo we’ll see how that plays out.”
Esch said that his main concerns tonight are turnovers and penalties.
Hutch vs. Waseca
In a much-anticipated matchup in Section 2AAAA, No. 2-ranked Waseca plays at No. 1 Hutchinson for a trip to the state tournament.
Hutchinson is the defending state champion and has been ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll all season. The Bluejays have slowly worked their way up the polls.
“This is why kids come out for football,” Waseca coach Brad Wendland said. “Two 9-0 teams, Friday night ... there’s no place I’d rather be.”
Hutchinson is averaging 39.2 points and allowing 7.8; Waseca is averaging 38.6 points and giving up 15.9.
Hutchinson features tailback Tory Adams and a strong ground game. Waseca is led by senior quarterback Thomas O’Neil, who has rushed for 1,400 yards and has passed for 1,353 yards.
“Hutchinson is fast, tough and deep,” Wendland said. “We’re going to have to throw the ball, and that means our blocking must be good, the routes have to be good, and we can’t have any turnovers. We’ll need to play a clean game.”
On Sept. 6, Nicollet defeated Madelia 21-20, escaping when the Blackhawks failed on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. The teams meet again tonight in the Section 2 finals at Nicollet.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Nicollet coach Tom Murphy said. “We feel good about playing them, and I’m sure they feel good about playing us. They do some things that concern me, but we’re a better team, too.”
Murphy said that the same nine guys are starting tonight who started in the Week 2 game, but seven are in different positions. One of the biggest changes was moving senior Matt Christenson from the offensive line to fullback, giving quarterback Dalton Elliot better protection and a safety-valve option in the passing game.
“Madelia was really aggressive defensively against us,” Murphy said. “We moved the ball pretty well; we just didn’t finish some drives.”
Elliott rushed for 132 yards and passed for 146 yards. Madelia took a 14-0 lead in the first half with two long touchdown passes by Kyle Schultz. Nicollet went up 21-14 in the third quarter on Jay Hendricks’ interception return, but Jack Bergemann’s touchdown run made it 21-20 in the fourth quarter. A two-point conversion failed, and the Raiders prevailed.
Nicollet (10-0) ended up ranked fifth in The Associated Press’ final nine-man poll. Madelia (8-2) has won seven straight games.