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NLS looking for more balance to attack in today's semifinals

Aaron Jenny, center, of New London-Spicer catches a two-point conversion pass during their state Class AAA quarterfinal game against Minneapolis North Nov. 14 in St. Cloud. Tribune photo by T.J. Bartelt1 / 2
Derek Henle, center, of New London-Spicer finds a small hole opened up by Joe Johnson, left, during their state Class AAA quarterfinal game against Minneapolis North Nov. 14 in St. Cloud. Tribune photo by T.J. Bartelt2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS -- New London-Spicer coach Dan Essler wants to see his Wildcats be a little more effective in the passing game.

The Wildcats (12-0) threw the ball only four times in a 28-8 win over Minneapolis North in the state Class AAA tournament opener last week. In the final quarter, the offense saw nine -- and sometimes 10 -- defensive players stacked near the line of scrimmage.

NLS will need to become more versatile offensively in their semifinal game against Kasson-Mantor-ville today at the Met-rodome. The game is scheduled to start at 3:15 p.m.

"The preparation for this game is very similar the North game for our defense," Essler noted. "Offensively, we need to get our passing game (routes, throwing, blocking) to be more effective."

The defense will have its hands full with the KoMets, who have accumulated more than 4,000 yards of offense this season. They haven't scored less than 30 points all year and have scored more than 40 seven times in 12 wins.

Kasson-Mantorville is a run-first team, according to coach Ivan Kroulik, who said his team runs the ball 75 percent of the time. Cameron Ruehmann, a senior, leads the team with 712 yards rushing and 12 TDs. When the KoMets throw the ball, senior quarterback Bryan Ripley averages 19 yards a completion and has thrown for 1,703 yards.

"Ripley is the best throwing quarterback we have faced all season," said Essler. "Chris Paradise is a very good athlete at wide receiver."

Paradise, a senior who is also a kick returner, has 580 yards on 24 catches and nine TDs.

Over the season, the KoMets have outscored their opponents by 29 points, with the defense allowing a little over 12 per game. From an experience standpoint, Kasson-Mantorville hasn't been to the state tournament since 2000 and wasn't in a section final since 2006.

"We are a mixture of seniors, juniors and several sophomores. Our senior class is an exceptional group with many of them starting for the third year," Kroulik said. "Both of our lines have progressed as the season has gone on. Our conference, the Hiawatha Valley, was very competitive this year and four of the teams were in the top 10 at different times. This good competition has helped us prepare for the state tournament."

The final factor will be the Metrodome. After playing outdoors in increasingly colder temperatures, the 72-degree, dry air of the Dome will take some adjustments.

"We are running sprints inside with helmets and sweatshirts on to get used to the heat and lack of air movement," Essler said.