Last year’s Section One, Class AAAA championship game couldn’t have started much better for the Kasson-Mantorville KoMets. Facing top-seeded Winona, K-M scored a touchdown on its first drive, then recovered a Winona fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
But then things fell apart. The KoMets didn’t cash in on that opportunity to go up by two scores, and Winona scored on its next three possessions en route to a 34-14 win and a state berth.
K-M senior quarterback Matt Winkle fully expects the KoMets to encounter Winona in the playoffs again.
“We want to beat Winona this year and get a berth in the state tournament,” Winkle said. “We work in the weight room to beat Winona. It’s always about Winona, Winona, Winona.”
If the KoMets are going to achieve that goal and play at U.S. Bank Stadium, Winkle is the one who will lead them there.
He’s been running K-M’s triple-option offense since he was a freshman, and the KoMets will win or lose based on the plays he makes with his feet and the decisions he makes at the line of scrimmage.
K-M head coach Broc Threinen first employed the triple-option during Winkle’s freshman season, and injuries to other players forced Winkle to take the reins of what was a new and highly complicated offense.
Threinen said the option didn’t always function smoothly that first year.
“There was some frustration,” he admitted. “But it was a process, and throughout that first year, we saw signs of things clicking and working. Matt picked it up really quick.”
Now, as one of the most experienced QBs in the state, Winkle is almost like a coach on the field.
“He studies what we need and what the defense is going to give us with particular fronts, and he basically has the keys to the car once the play is called,” Threinen said. “He can switch the side we’re going to go or change the play on that side. Whatever call we put in from the sideline, Matt has the authority to change it if things aren’t looking good, so we’re never caught in a bad play call. We might not always execute it perfectly, but he’ll put us into the right call about 95 percent of the time, which is a huge asset for a team that runs the option.”
Winkle estimated that he reads the defense and changes the play about 50 percent of the time. “I’ll have two or three plays in mind when I get to the line of scrimmage, and usually that’s enough,” he said.
When he comes to the line of scrimmage, more often than not he encounters a defense that is focused on stopping Winkle himself. At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he’s not a physically imposing running back — until he finds a running lane.
“Speed is my biggest asset,” he said. “I’ve avoided a lot of hits because of my speed, and that’s helped a lot in terms of my health and scoring, obviously.”
He rushed for 1,018 yards and 15 touchdowns in the regular season last year, and he scored both of K-M’s TDs against Winona, including a 67-yard score.
“It’s kind of cool, because as an option quarterback I’m essentially a running back who throws the ball five or six times per game,” Winkle said.
“There aren’t a lot of quarterbacks who do it, so you have to have a toughness that some others don’t.”
THROWING MORE OFTEN?
But both Winkle and Threinen agree that in order to make a run at a state title, the KoMets will need to be a bit more balanced offensively, if only to keep defenses from totally selling out to stop the run.
“I think we could throw it more this year,” Threinen said. “Our goal is to get athletes out there on the edge who can really stretch the field.
“That forces teams to keep a few guys back, which creates some good situations for the run game. We’d like to throw it 10 to 12 times a game, to become more comfortable with that part of the game and add it to our system.”
Regardless of whether the KoMets are running or throwing, one of the keys to their success will be an offensive line that graduated four of five starters from last year.
“Those will be some big shoes to fill,” Threinen said. “We had a real nice senior class that graduated, with five guys going on to play college football. They brought a lot of leadership and passion to our team, doing things right. We’re really going to miss them.”
But Winkle said the revamped offensive line is making great progress.
“We went to a camp out in South Dakota this summer, and out there our line was a little shaky at first,” he said. “But by the end of the camp, I felt really good about our line. They really came together, and we were beating on some pretty good teams out there.”
That young line is still likely to make some mistakes, such as holding penalties or blown assignments, which is why Winkle would like to have a few more passes in the playbook for crucial moments when the KoMets find themselves behind the sticks or behind on the scoreboard.
“With our running game, we usually can get four or five yards a carry, but if we get a penalty, those pass plays can be huge,” Winkle said.
But make no mistake — K-M goes into the 2018 season with the full intention of smashing the ball down the field using one of football’s classic, historic offenses. It’s an offense that Threinen says suits his players and the communities they represent.
“When we put in the option three years ago, we did it because it’s a tough, hard-nosed scheme, and that’s the kind of kids we have here,” he said.
“The kids have really bought in, and that’s what’s led to the success of this offense and the team overall. If you don’t have the kids buying in, nothing that you run is going to be very good.”