Vikings move into 5A final
As the wind got stronger, so did the Vikings.
At the start of the Section 5A semifinal game on Saturday afternoon, the sun blanketed K.P. Kompelien Field as the temperature reached 60 degrees and a light breeze barely ruffled the flag next to the grandstand.
Minneota, which had just defeated Dawson-Boyd 29-6 on Oct. 20 in the regular-season finale in a steady drizzle, matched up again with the Blackjacks and this time came away with a 34-13 win in the Section 5A semifinals.
The Vikings scored on their first possession, but then were temporarily stymied as Dawson-Boyd's defense stiffened. The Blackjacks stopped a Minneota drive on fourth-and-one, one of the few times all season the Vikings have turned the ball over on downs.
"They came out swinging and we just were not ready for that, said Conner Sik, who had a strong all-around game with three touchdowns and three sacks. "It caused us to not execute on some drives."
Coach Chad Johnston also felt the slow start was a combination of things.
"Dawson-Boyd played a good defensive game against us in the first half, but I also felt we were not executing great," Johnston said. "We definitely should not have been stopped on that fourth and short, but give credit to Dawson-Boyd."
As the game wore on, the wind picked up, the sun ducked behind an overcast sky, and the temperature plummeted.
And the colder and windier it got, the hotter the Vikings got.
The top-seeded Vikings (10-0) advance to Friday's 5A championship at 4:30 p.m. at SMSU against No. 2 BOLD, which defeated Lakeview 34-12 in its semifinal game on Saturday.
"BOLD is a well-coached, disciplined program," said Johnston. "They have a good balance between being able to run the ball well and completing big passes off play action. Defensively, they are not big, but are quick and get into their pass drops very well."
Minneota's first touchdown came at the expense of its top runner. AJ Josephson burst up the middle for a 49-yard gain before having to come out of the game with a tight hamstring.
That put the bulk of the running attack on Sik, who finished with 99 yards in 17 carries, and three short touchdowns.
"I felt fairly strong at the start of the game," said Sik. "My teammates were picking me up, which made me stronger late in the game."
Josephson, who leads the team with 883 yards rushing, is expected to be ready for Friday's game. The Vikings' top receiver, Cale Sorensen, was also injured after catching a short pass in the first quarter and did not return. Sorensen hit his head on the ground when tackled and had to be removed due to concussion protocol.
"(Cale) passed his impact test on Monday, so he is cleared to slowly start doing things in practice," said Johnston. "As long as he can do activity without having any symptoms return, he will be able to play on Friday."
Sik, who has 532 yards rushing this season, scored on the next play and Peyton Gillund's conversion kick gave Minneota a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
The Blackjacks then methodically attacked the Viking's stellar defense, moving from its own 22 to the Minneota 36 before turning the ball over on downs after a 15-play drive that consumed nearly nine minutes.
Minneota then turned the ball over on downs for only the second time all season when the Blackjacks stopped them for a one-yard loss on fourth-and-two at the D-B 14.
After the visitors punted, Minneota drove to the 41 before being intercepted with just 2:06 left in the first half. It looked like the Vikings would take just a 7-0 lead into intermission.
The Blackjacks were held and forced to punt, giving Minneota the ball their own 48. After a 9-yard run by Anthony Rybinski and a 16-yard scamper by Sik, the Vikings had the ball at the 27. Quarterback Isaac Pohlen quickly spiked the ball to stop the clock with :29 remaining, then threw incomplete twice on deep corner routes.
On fourth down, Pohlen connected with Max Rost for a first down at the 17, and then hit Rost again on the next play for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with six seconds left in the half.
"That score right before halftime was a big turning point in my mind," said Johnston. "That gave us momentum going into halftime, knowing they were going to get the ball right away in the third quarter. It was big to get a defensive stop, force them to punt, and score all under two minutes."
The Vikings increased their lead to 27-0 with a pair of third-quarter scores, both on short runs by Sik. The first was from two yards out that followed a six-play 41-yard drive, while the second was set up by a nifty interception by Max Rost when he cut in front of the receiver to pick off Brayden Hahn's pass over the middle. Sik scored from a yard out following a seven-play drive that was highlighted by 10-yard runs from Sik and Anthony Rybinski.
The Vikings' final score came in the fourth quarter when Pohlen connected with Jonah Gruenes on a 55-yard TD pass for a 34-0 advantage.
The Blackjacks scored consecutive touchdowns late in the game when Brayden Hahn found brother Braxton Hahn from 32 and 5 yards out, respectively.
Pohlen completed 7 of 12 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Josephson finished with 53 yards in two carries, while Gruenes ran for 34 yards, Rybinski 31 and Zack Fier 22.
Gruenes had two receptions for 58 yards and Rost had two of 28 yards.
Defensively, Sik had three of the team's four sacks and had four tackles for losses. Zack Fier had the other sack. Sik, who leads the team with 13 sacks in 10 games this season, said the sacks didn't come easy against the Blackjacks.
"They were a son of a gun," he said. "They almost had two guys on me every time. I will not lie, it was a struggle to get in the backfield."
Minneota was whistled for only one penalty in the game, one of a few problem areas for the team this season.
"Penalties have plagued us all season," Johnston noted. "We week we emphasize trying to minimize penalties. That was a good game for us."
Brayden Hahn completed 13 of 25 passes for 146 yards for the Blackjacks. Braxton Hahn hauled in five passes for 83 yards.
Minneota 34, Dawson-Boyd 13
YME.......................................................... 0 0 0 13 - 13
Minneota...................................................7 7 13 7 - 34
Min - Conner Sik 2 run (Peyton Gillund kick)
Min - Max Rost 13 pass from Isaac Pohlen (Gillund kick)
Min - Sik 2 run (run failed)
Min - Sik 1 run (Gillund kick)
Min - Gruenes 55 pass from Pohlen (Gillund kick)
DB - Braxton Hahn 32 pass from Brayden Hahn (Pau Clemens Suau kick)
DB - Braxton Hahn 5 pass from Brayden Hahn (kick failed)
Total Plays: Minneota 58, Dawson-Boyd 48. Total Yards: Minneota 363, Dawson-Boyd 136. Passing Yards: Minneota 116, Dawson-Boyd 146. Rushing Yards: Minneota 247, Dawson-Boyd -10. First Downs: Minneota 18, Dawson-Boyd 7. Turnovers: Minneota 1, Dawson-Boyd 1. Penalties: Minneota 1-5, Dawson-Boyd 3-15.
RUSHING (att-yds): Conner Silk 17-99, AJ Josephson 2-53, Jonah Gruenes 7-34, Anthony Rybinski 6-31, Zack Fier 7-22, Max Rost 2-8, Isaac Pohlen 2-2, Ryan Dalager 2-(-2).
PASSING (com-att-yds-td-int): Pohlen 7-12-116-2-1
RECEIVING (rec-yds): Gruenes 2-58, Rost 2-28, Sik 1-13, Rybinski 1-13, Sorensen 1-4
TACKLES (solo-assisted): Sik 4-3, Z.Fier 3-3, Jackson Esping 2-2, Rost 2-1, Alex DePestel 2-0, Gillund 2-0, Sorensen 1-2, Jayden Gamrak 1-2, Mike Popowski 1-0, Branden Johnson 1-0, Destin Fier 1-0, Gruenes 0-4, Rybinski 0-6, Hudson Scholten 1-0, Tucker Thooft 0-2, Jack Lacek 0-1, Tyler Schmidt 0-1.
SACKS: Sik 3, Z.Fier 1
TACKLES FOR LOSS: Sik 4, Z.Fier 1, Esping 1, Gamrak 1
INTERCEPTIONS: Rost 1
PUNTING (no-avg.): Gillund 2-25.0