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KMS offensive line paves way to state championship

The Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg offensive line, which has opened holes for 1,877 yards rushing this postseason, are from left, tackle Chris DiSanto, guard Adam Wentzel, center Joey Bauman, guard Brad Kneisl and tackle Mitch Weflen. Tribune photo by T.J. Bartelt

KERKHOVEN -- A change needed to happen for Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg's football team.

After scoring 156 points in four wins to start the season, the Fighting Saints dropped the next two, totaling just 19 points, including a 22-7 loss to Royalton in Prairie South Conference action Oct. 3.

That's when head coach James Cortez knew something needed to be done differently.

"Losing those two games, we figured we better learn something from it, or we're going to be in trouble the rest of the year," he said.

So the Saints, who will face Royalton in the state Class A championship game Friday at the Metrodome, revamped their offensive line, putting some more experience and athleticism up front.

That led to the line opening holes for Joel Bauman, who is now the West Central Tribune area's single-season rushing leader.

The five seniors, Joey Bauman at center, Adam Wentzel and Brad Kniesl at the guards, and Chris DiSanto and Mitch Weflen at the tackles, have formed a nearly impenetrable line and have helped the Saints gain 2,409 yards since Week 6.

"We needed to get more athletic up front," Cortez said. "Joey gives us a little more athleticism at the center. We moved Brad back to guard, where he had been playing the last couple of years. He's a little more athletic, runs a little better and is stronger. Weflen gives us a little more size on the edge. With him and DiSanto, we go 240 and 260 pounds on the edge."

It didn't take long for the change to take hold. In the first game with the new line, KMS ran the ball 55 times for 353 yards. The Fighting Saints have been held to under 200 yards only once since.

"We just work together and everyone knows what's going on," said Kniesl, a four-year starter. "We're doing our job; doing what we're supposed to do."

Like most offensive linemen, these KMS movers don't expect to get a lot of publicity and don't open holes in defenses for the glory. The words thrown about during interviews were "team" and "we".

"It doesn't bother me much, personally," said Joey Bauman. "I know we open the holes for Joel to get through."

When asked what is the most important thing needed to get his job done, Wentzel said, "The other people on the line."

And having five seniors makes things a little easier for Cortez and his staff. They all know the system and it's pretty easy for them to understand how to adjust to opposing defense.

"It's just more experience," Cortez said. "We've got Wentzel and DiSanto who have been starting for three years, and Kniesl, who's been starting for four years, on the offensive line. They're seniors, so we have a little more stability there."

These guys also feel comfortable enough to joke around with each other, but don't go overboard.

"We have fun, but we do our work and get everything done that we need to," Weflen said.

And what they need to do is leave the Metrodome Friday with the school's first state football championship trophy.

"It means a lot," said DiSanto of all the success this season. "Our grade, especially, has worked really hard to get here. Our team was running all summer long, starting the day school got out."