By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
A year ago, Eric Davis was Mankato West’s offensive coordinator, trying to figure out which plays would work against the Mankato East defense.
Tonight, he’ll be on the other sideline, hoping the Cougars can stop Mankato West’s high-powered offense.
“It was different coaching against East, a bit odd,” Davis said. “But having played in the Big Nine, it was kind of weird when I coached the first time (against my alma mater) Winona.”
The 40th annual Jug game will be played tonight when West and East meet at 7 p.m. at Blakeslee Stadium. East (0-7, 0-6 in Big Nine) leads the series 22-17, but the Scarlets (1-6, 1-5) have won the last six, including a 28-11 victory last season.
“They run a similar offense (to last season), maybe not as much quarterback run,” Davis said. “It’s evolved, but some of the things are recognizable.”
The Scarlets’ offense exploded last week in a 58-8 victory over Rochester Century, scoring three touchdowns in the first three minutes and 37 points in the opening quarter.
“It felt good to get back on track, like we were those first four weeks,” coach Mark Esch said. “We got on teams right away, and to have a big first quarter was huge. I was also proud of the way the defense played.”
Sophomore quarterback Ryan Schlichte, who threw five touchdowns against Century, has completed 90 of 148 passes for 1,561 yards and 19 touchdowns. Alex Knutson leads the team with 27 receptions for 509 yards and five touchdowns, while Will Claussen has 20 catches for 547 yards and five touchdowns, Connor Watts has 19 receptions for 375 yards and six touchdowns and Scott McKissick has 15 receptions for 134 yards and three touchdowns. Trenton Marks is the top rusher with 375 yards and nine touchdowns.
Defensively, linebackers Tyler Jakes and Isaac Weber have 99 and 98 tackles, respectively. Jakes has 5.5 sacks, one more than Weber. Knutson has made 66 tackles.
For East, quarterback Nic Seiler has completed 72 of 127 passes for 882 yards and six touchdowns. Jordan Grams has 35 receptions, with 20 in the last two games, for 456 yards and four scores. Brandon Adema is the top rusher with 159 yards and two touchdowns.
Linebacker Lincoln Benzkofer has a team-high 105 tackles, with seven tackles for loss, and Cody Lorentz has 70 tackles, with 8.5 tackles for loss.
“We’ve been right there three of the last four weeks, and we couldn’t finish the game,” Davis said. “We need to make a big play at the end of the game and close the deal.”
East is currently the sixth seed in Section 2AAAA and would need a victory to jump ahead of New Ulm or Dassel-Cokato. West’s playoff position is more precarious, considering the four forfeits from earlier this season.
Esch will meet with the other section coaches Thursday morning to determine the playoff seedings.
“We still look at ourselves as 5-2,” he said. “We need to take care of business (against East), and then you never know how the other coaches are going to vote. Our goal is still to get the No. 1 seed.”
Cooling is hot
In the first quarter, Fulda tried to stop the pass so Madelia quarterback Adam Cooling ran the ball. When the defense came up to stop the run, the senior threw the ball.
Despite playing only the first half and one series in the third quarter, Cooling accounted for seven touchdowns in Friday’s 52-8 nonconference victory. Cooling rushed for 159 yards and four touchdowns, and he passed for 306 yards and three touchdowns.
“In the past, we’ve had a little better supporting cast for him,” Madelia coach Terry Arduser said. “This season, we’re throwing a lot of things on his shoulders, and he’s carried us at times.”
Despite missing about 11⁄2 games with a shoulder injury, Cooling has passed for 1,513 yards and 19 touchdowns.
He already holds career school records with 231 completions, 483 attempts, 3,770 yards passing and 45 touchdown passes. He’s also rushed for 1,648 yards and 31 touchdowns in his career
He set single-game records with 377 yards passing and five touchdowns in a game against Truman⁄Granada-Huntley-East Chain⁄Martin Luther, and his four rushing touchdowns against Fulda also set a school record.
“He’s an offensive machine,” Arduser said.
Madelia (5-2) plays at Randolph (1-6) tonight.
Games to watch
Blooming Prairie (6-1) plays a nonconference game at New Ulm Cathedral (5-2). The Blossoms are a prolific passing team, while Cathedral likes to pound the ground game.
Mayer Lutheran (6-1) plays at Watertown-Mayer (6-1), which are two of the three teams that are tied for first place at 5-1 in the Minnesota River Conference. Sibley East (6-1), which hosts Le Sueur-Henderson (2-5), can clinch a share of the MRC title with a victory.