The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 18, 2013

Southern Plains will be newest conference

South Central, Southwest to become Southern Plains

By Chad Courrier
The Mankato Free Press

---- — ST. PETER — For years, the South Central Conference has survived as a six-team league.

It's the minimum number allowed by the Minnesota State High School League and a number that left the conference looking for more stability. According to St. Peter activities director Steve Alger, a plan to merge the SCC and Southwest Conference would make a new league more stable and help in scheduling, especially in football.

"Both conferences are small, and it's a matter of stability," Alger said. "If someone had decided to do something different, our conference would fold."

Alger said the Southern Plains Conference would be a 13-team conference, merging St. Peter, Waseca, Blue Earth Area, St. James Area, New Ulm and Fairmont of the SCC with seven schools from the Southwest: Jackson County Central, Luverne, Marshall, Pipestone Area, Redwood Valley, Windom Area and Worthington.

A few years ago, the conferences tried a cooperative schedule to help fill open dates for football, but when one or two schools didn't like it, the plan was scrapped. Alger said the schools had meetings this week to work out bylaws and scheduling issues, and those plans have to be approved by school boards of each school.

In football, St. Peter traveled to Hibbing for a game last season. Earlier this season, Waseca played at Little Falls. Though the schedule hasn't been set, it would likely include seven or eight conference games each season. There could end up being divisions within the conference.

Alger said he'd like to keep Le Sueur-Henderson on the schedule, but he's not sure how it will work.

"Le Sueur is a big rival for us," he said. "If it doesn't work, we'll still have a full schedule.

"I think people still have a lot of questions, and we're getting a lot of things ironed out. I'm excited about this."

Opsal is perfect

Owatonna's Carter McCauley stole the show last week with booming kickoffs and a 38-yard, game-winning field goal last week, but junior Andrew Opsal has been perfect in his first experience as the Mankato West kicker.

Opsal made 8 of 8 PATs in the season-opening 64-14 victory against Albert Lea, and he was 7 of 7 in a 57-14 victory against Austin. Last week, he was 3 of 3 in the 24-21 loss to Owatonna, with a lot more riding on each kick than the previous two weeks.

"The thing I like about Opsal is that he's laid back, cool and calm," West coach Mark Esch said. "I like that in a kicker. And he's only a junior so he has a chance to keep getting better."

Opsal, who has played in the soccer program as a defender, joined the football team just a couple weeks before the season began. Esch said that he didn't have many options when Opsal decided to be the kicker.

"There really wasn't a Plan B," he said.

Esch said he's been happy with Opsal's kickoffs, which have been high and toward the corner. He has generally gotten the kicks inside the 10.

Esch has estimated that Opsal could probably kick a field goal of up to 40 yards, though he hasn't attempted any in three games.

West has had good luck getting a soccer player to be the kicker recently. Ken Ouren and Bill Leitch both had successful stints with the football team in recent years.

East injuries

The good news for Mankato East (0-3) is that this week's game is at winless Albert Lea. The bad news is that quarterback Nic Seiler and linebacker Nick Brink, who also serves as the punter and kicker, both could miss the game because of concussions.

"Everybody has to deal with injuries," East coach Eric Davis said. "It's up to the coaches to put players in the best position to succeed."

If Seiler can't play, junior Cooper Wolfe would start at quarterback. Davis said that he's not sure how the Cougars will replace Brink at three positions.

Looking for 4-0

Maple River has won its first three games and is looking for a fourth win Friday at United South Central. It's been a good start for a young team, especially on offense.

"We knew we were going to have to put some kids out there that weren't quite ready," Maple River coach Brian Schoneck said. "We've been really pleased with their progression."

Seniors Aaron Trio and Casey Decker have been the offensive leaders. Trio has rushed for 284 yards and five touchdowns, while Decker has rushed for 70 yards and has 12 receptions for 165 yards. Juniro quarterback Jay Sohre has gotten better each week. He's completed 18 of 42 passes for 213 yards and four touchdowns.

Things get tougher for the Eagles in the second half of the season. Next week, Maple River plays at Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (1-2) before home games with New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva (2-1) and Blooming Prairie (3-0). The regular season ends with a game at Medford (2-1).

"We knew we had to play good football early because the schedule gets real tough at the end," Schoneck said. "USC is a big rival, and they've played some good teams. I expect a real battle."

Games to watch

Coming off a loss, West (2-1) travels to Rochester John Marshall (3-0), which has victories over Winona, Albert Lea and Austin by a combined score of 105-40.

Cleveland, which lost its first game last week, plays at undefeated Nicollet, which could nearly secure a share of the Southern Confederacy championship with a victory.

Waterville-Elysian-Morristown has struggled through three games, winning just once, and a game at Blooming Prairie on Friday won't be easy.