Section 1, Nine-Man: Spring Grove looming again in Nine-Man
After years of knocking on the doorstep of the Nine-Man state tournament, Spring Grove smashed the door down a year ago.
Making its first state appearance, Spring Grove rolled to the Nine-Man state championship during the 2017 season. The Lions capped a perfect 14-0 season by blanking Nevis 32-0 in the state championship game. Spring Grove outscored three state foes by a combined score of 91-13.
En route to the state tournament, Spring Grove had to get past Grand Meadow in Section One play. The Lions accomplished that as they halted Grand Meadow’s streak of four straight state titles with a 40-17 win in the section semifinals. Spring Grove then nipped Cleveland 36-35 in the section finals before breezing to its first state title.
Section One has been perennially the top section in the state in Nine-Man. Section One has produced the last five state champions and in the five years before that there was one more state title and a pair of state runner-up finishes.
Section One should again be very strong and Spring Grove should be the team to beat.
Here is s team-by-team look at the section.
• SPRING GROVE •
Senior Alex Folz is a big reason why the Lions should once again not only be a section, but a state title contender.
Folz, a physical quarterback/linebacker was named to the Nine-Man All-State team a year ago when he guided the Lions to a 14-0 record and the state title. He threw for 2,298 yards and 28 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,581 yards and 26 touchdowns. That gives him 60 touchdown passes, 43 rushing touchdowns, 4,567 passing yards and 2,449 rushing yards in the past two seasons. He also had 105 tackles and four interceptions on defense, made 42 of 57 extra points and averaged 32.9 yards a punt.
The Lions have two other standouts back as well. Ethan Matzke (6-3, 225-pound senior, TE/DE) was also named All-State a year ago while senior WR/LB Noah Elton was honorable mention. Matzke caught 19 passes for 246 yards and four TDs a year ago. On defense, he had 72 tackles with 10.5 sacks. Elton caught 51 passes for 829 yards and nine TDs in 2017. On defense he had 90 tackles and four interceptions.
Those three All-District players will anchor a Spring Grove team that has just 17 players. The Lions lost three key skill-position players and their entire offensive line
“Staying healthy will be very important for us this year with only 17 players on the roster,” 12th-year coach Zach Hauser said. “With that being said we are very confident in the players that will be on the field on Friday nights. Returning Alex Folz at QB to run our offense for a third year is exciting. Ethan Matzke and Noah Elton are both returning as fourth year starters.
“Other than those three, experience isn’t on our side, but the guys that will be stepping up have worked hard in the off season and are ready for the challenge. No returning starters on the offensive line so our early season success or lack of success will reflect on how that group is coming together.”
• HOUSTON •
Cody Hungerholt, in his third season coaching the Hurricanes, has a team that could make some serious noise in section play.
Houston was 8-2 a year ago and lost to Cleveland in the section finals. The Hurricanes have good experience with 10 seniors and nice depth with 28 players. The challenge will be replacing five multi-year starters. Among that group were four players who were All-Conference.
The Hurricanes do return four key starters, all seniors, led by QB/DB James Hongerholtz. Other starters back include FB/DL Joey Fishel, RB/LB Jaytin Millen and OL/DL Kyle Twite (6-2, 220).
“Replacing five starters will be tough for us, especially early,” Hungerholt said. “We do have 10 seniors some of which have played good football for us the past couple years and others who have been waiting their turn and I’m excited to see what they can do with their opportunity.
“Section One is very challenging we will just try to get better every week and play our best football at the end of the year.”
The Hurricanes do not have to face Spring Grove until the sixth week of the regular season.
• CLEVELAND/IL •
After earning a state berth in 2016, the Clippers moved into tough Section One a year ago. They might have been the second-best Nine-Man team in the state as they went 9-2, losing 52-51 to Spring Grove in the season opener and then 36-35 to the Lions in the section finals.
Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran has good numbers this season with 24 players. But the Clippers lost standout QB Carter Kopet and WR Austin Plonsky.
Kopet finished his career with the most touchdown passes in Minnesota history, including 54 his junior season.
Sophomore Alex McCabe figures to guide the team this fall.
The Clippers still have plenty of veterans and the squad has nine seniors as well as six juniors.
Kyle Atherton and Erik Hermanson are once again the co-coaches.
• GRAND MEADOW •
Coach Gary Sloan is hoping the Superlarks can bounce back and make a run at another section title in 2018.
Sloan guided Grand Meadow to a 55-1 record while winning four straight state titles from 2013-16. Grand Meadow had a 51-game winning streak until falling to Houston in the second week of the 2017 season.
The Superlarks went on to post a solid 7-3 record, with two of those losses coming to Spring Grove. Until losing to Spring Grove in the playoffs a year ago, Grand Meadow had won five straight section titles.
If the Superlarks make a run this season, it will be with a young team.
Sloan has just three returning lettermen and a pair of All-State players from a year ago have graduated.
Grand Meadow has good numbers in the lower grades, but just two seniors are on the squad and neither lettered a year ago.
Lettermen back include juniors Nolan Skifter (5-10, 170 pound, RB/LB) and Wyatt Weiss (6-2, 230,C/DT) and sophomore Daniel Smith (6-0, 152, RB/LB).
Skifter rushed for 202 yards last year (5.6 average) and also caught six passes. Skifter also had 96 tackles on defense.
Smith rushed for 151 yards and had 50 tackles on defense. Weiss also had 50 tackles.
Junior Ethan Lane is expected to be the starting quarterback and a cornerback.
Other top newcomers should be seniors Alec Hamilton (RB/LB) and Carter Czapiewski (RB/DB) and juniors Tommy Oehlke (RB/DB), Ryan Hinz (G/LB), John Baldus (C/LB), Hunter Tangen (G/DT) and DeAngelo Vigo-Dow (TE/DE). A half dozen sophomores are also expected to contribute. Hinz had 22 tackles a year ago while Luke Speer rushed for 100 yards and 2 TDs as a freshman.
Entering his 26th year of coaching, Sloan is one win away from a milestone. He begins the year with a 199-75 career record. He said his team has “good overall athletic ability, but lacks size. Spring Grove and Houston should be the district favorites.”
• LEROY-OSTRANDER •
The Cardinals are coming off a 4-5 season under coach Aaron Hungerholt, who is now in his 10th season of coaching.
L-O has good experience back as it lost just a couple of key players from last year’s team, which lost to Cleveland in the first round of section play.
“Looking forward to improving from 4-5,” Hungerholt said. “We need to take the next step and compete with the top teams.”
The Cardinals have a nice start with Trey Hungerholt back as a QB/S. The senior will be a starter for the fourth season. He was All-Conference a year ago and is a running and passing threat on offense and a strong defender in the secondary.
Junior OL/DE Tanner Kasel was honorable mention All-Conference last season. Junior Riley Olson returns at TE/LB. Another key junior will be RB/LB Carter Johnson, who missed last year due to a knee injury.
“We are talented at the skill positions, especially in the backfield,” coach Hungerholt said. “We have question marks at the offensive line and depth.”
• MABEL-CANTON •
Coach Karl Urbaniak begins this 34th season as the coach of Mabel-Canton and he has five key players back and two more that had played two seasons ago.
“We have some really good leaders on this year, we just need to practice quite a bit,” Urbaniak said.
Senior Drew Wyffels is back as his third year as a full-time starter at quarterback. He threw for about 500 yards a year ago and also is a key defensive back. Senior Ryan Kuhn, a RB/DB, rushed for around 600 yards last season, second on the team, when the Cougars compiled a 4-5 record.
The Cougars return a pair of offensive and defensive linemen in seniors Dylan Loppnow (6-4, 210) and Blake Henry (6-2, 190). Junior RB/LB Caden Stoen is the other returning player. Seniors Brandon Schneider (RB/LB) and Jon Smith (OL/DL) are back this season after sitting out in 2017.
Ethan Underbakke (RB/DB) might be the best of the remaining juniors. The other key newcomers might all be sophomores. They include DB Jack Arenson, OL/DL Randy Gerard (5-10, 250), OL/DL Colton Heintz-Kuderer (5-10, 180), RB/LB Gavin Johnson, OL/DL Elijah Smith (5-11, 210) and OL/LB Brady Yoder (5-10, 210).
Urbaniak said that working on fundamentals will be important, especially since the Cougars do not have great team speed. The team will also have to rebuild most of its line. “I have a good feeling about this team,” Urbaniak said. “We do have some good experience in the backfield.”
• LANESBORO •
Lanesboro is coming off a 2-7 season and James Semmen is in his 18th year as the head coach.
Semmen realizes the Burros are playing in a tough district and section but wants his team “to get better week by week.”
Lanesboro is thin on upperclassmen this season with a modest five seniors and just two juniors.
Senior Carson Schwichtenberg returns at QB and safety. Other senior back are WR/DE Andrew Luck, OT/DT Riley Cambern (7 sacks last season), TE/FB/LB Connor Ruen and OT/LB Joe Gathje. The lone juniors are WR/FB/DE Nate Betz WR/FB and C/NT Trevor Atkinson.
Sophomores expected to contribute include WR/CB Caden Anderson, WR/S Cale Anderson, FB/S Ben Snyder, TE/DT Bodie Mayer, OT/DT Ryan Holmen, TE/LB Sawyer Johnson and CB/RB Jake Gathje.
Semmen said the offensive line, depth and defensive speed should be the team’s strengths.
• LYLE/PACELLI •
Dan King is the new coach of for the Athletics, who were winless at 0-9 a year ago. King hopes to instill a winning attitude in his players.
“We are changing our present and future every day in practice,” King said. “We are competing to win every play, either on the offense, defense, or special teams and it is starting to show. We are making practice harder to make the games easier. We plan on competing in our district that has had the last five state champions.”
L/P did lose eight players to graduation. There are six returning senior letterwinners, but no juniors.
Seniors back include Bryce Strouf (RB/DB), Ethan Heard (RB/WR/DB), Mason Holtorf (C/TE/LB), Kobie Schafer (RB/TE/LB), Mike Morgan (TE/LB) and Brandon Halsey (TE/LB). There are four returning sophomores in Jed Nelson (QB/DB), Zach Bollingberg (RB/WR/DB), Isaiah Clennon (C/TE/LB) and Dominic Morgan (RB/WR/LB) along with freshman Jon Whalen (RB/TE/LB). Nelson was the starting QB a year ago while Strouf was a top running back. Schafer and Whalen are back to anchor the offensive line.
Top newcomers include seniors Hunter Armstrong (RB/WR/DB) and Trace Fishbaugher (QB/TE/LB), juniors Tyson Anderson (WR/DB), Giacomo Riva (RB/WR/DB/K), Tristan Wiedeman (RB/LB) and Gavin Johnson (RB/LB) and soph. Casey Wietmer (OL/NT).
“The kids are learning a new offense and defense and growing every day in practice,” King said. “We have good size and speed. We have a coaching staff with 30-plus years of experience (with) John King. Weaknesses, we have not had a winning culture.”