High School Football: Litch, RCW are top seeds in their sections

Litchfield Dragons, Renville County West Jaguars will watch Tuesday as the playoffs begin

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Litchfield senior wide receiver Bennett Lecher tries to escape a tackle during Thursday's East Central District South Division game against New London-Spicer from Pederson Field in New London. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune

After a six-week sprint through the regular season, playoff football has arrived once again.

Across the state, most teams kick off their postseason journeys on Tuesday. Other teams, such as Litchfield, are in action later this week after receiving opening-round byes in their respective section.

The Dragons (5-1) are the top seed in Section 2AAA and will host the winner of Dassel-Cokato/Watertown-Mayer at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The area’s other top seed comes from Section 2 9-Man. Collecting the program’s first state appearance last season, Renville County West essentially received a bye when its quarterfinal opponent, No. 8 Onamia, forfeited. The undefeated Jaguars host No. 5 Cedar Mountain at 1 p.m. Saturday from Danube.

Finishing the past two seasons as state runner-up, second-seeded BOLD begins another run at a Section 5A title when it takes on No. 7 Yellow Medicine East at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Olivia. Also in 5A, No. 3 Dawson-Boyd plays at the same time and welcomes No. 6 Canby to R.B. Clay Field in Dawson. If the top seeds prevail, it will be the second consecutive season the Warriors and Blackjacks will meet in the section semifinals. BOLD came away with a 23-6 victory last season.


Elsewhere, in spite of a 2-3 record, Minnewaska enters the Section 6AAA bracket as the third seed. The Lakers play No. 6 Melrose at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Glenwood.

Of the 10 games on Tuesday featuring area teams, five are contests between the fourth and fifth seeds. With the 4-5 match-up set up to produce the most competitive action, here’s a look three games under that category:

Section 6AAA
at NL-S

This country has elected three different presidents — or two depending on who you ask — since New London-Spicer last entered the playoffs with a losing record.

The Wildcats finished the 2005 regular season at 3-5. Since then, the program has ripped off 14-consecutive regular seasons at or above the .500 mark. That streak came to an end in 2020. Last week, NLS fell at home to Litchfield 39-12 to drop to 2-4 this season.

“We’re disappointed with the win-lost record, but with our schedule going into the season, we knew it was going to be very difficult. And that proved to be that way,” Wildcats head coach Dan Essler said. “At the same time, we’re just happy to be able to play football because if we would’ve waited until the spring time, there’s no guarantees we would’ve gotten to play at that point, either.”

NLS is aiming to change its fortunes in the postseason. The fourth-seeded Wildcats face No. 5 Montevideo on 6 p.m. Tuesday from Pederson Field in New London.


This match-up is one of four where an area team is meeting its opponent for the first time this season. In fact, this will be the first time these two teams have lined up against each other since NLS crushed the Thunder Hawks 61-0 in the 2012 section quarterfinals.

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New London-Spicer senior linebacker Tim Thein points after forcing a turnover on downs during a East Central District crossover game against Albany on Oct. 23 from Pederson Field in New London. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune

Having three of their games canceled due to COVID-19, the Thunder Hawks finished the regular season with a 1-2 record. The team had a fine showing in its regular-season finale against defending-state-champion Pierz. The teams were tied 13-13 before the Pioneers pulled away with 20 points in the fourth quarter to remain undefeated.

“We really don’t know too much about them at this point in time,” Essler said of the Thunder Hawks. “We did watch a couple game films on them. I know they have a really nice quarterback and freshman fullback that goes 205 pounds; he looks like a very good athlete who runs the ball hard. He’s going to be tough to stop and I think offensively, they’re going to be tough to stop.”

That 205-pound fullback is Francis O’Malley. He leads Montevideo with 340 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry. The quarterback is Kaden Boike. The junior signal caller has thrown for 295 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

Against O’Malley’s bruising runner and the Boike-led passing attack, Essler has emphasized with his team that it has get off the field in third- and fourth-down situations, an element that it has struggled with this season.

Additionally, Essler believes the offensive key is better production in the red zone. There, look for senior backs Jack Novak and Tim Thein to be factors. All of eight of the duo’s rushing touchdowns have come from inside the red zone.


Section 4A
at Benson

After languishing through a 30-game losing streak, Benson has won seven of its last 11 games dating back to last season.

Two of those victories came against the team it will host at 6 p.m. Tuesday from Brock Field: No. 5 Upsala/Swanville Area.

Tuesday’s meeting will be one of six rematches from earlier in the season. It will also be the fourth meeting between the two teams since 2019. In the 2019 section quarterfinals, Benson dominated the 7-1 Patriots en route to a 35-12 victory.

On Nov. 6, the Braves clinched their first winning season since 2008 with a 20-18 overtime victory over USA. Senior defensive back Kellen Schmidt sealed the game after stopping Patriots senior quarterback Carter Johnson at the 1-yard line during the potential game-tying two-point conversion.

“We’ve created a really quick rivalry,” Braves head coach Adam Foslien said.

“I expect a dog fight in this 4-5 match-up between two teams that played a heck of a football game in Week 5.”

Having faced their playoff opponent eight days ago, Foslien plans to install a few new wrinkles into this week’s game plan. Benson hopes for better execution in the red zone after failing to come away with points on three trips inside the USA 15-yard line.


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Benson senior quarterback Cole Hedman (4) leads the Braves onto the field prior to Wednesday's Mid-State crossover game against Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted from Brock Field in Benson. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune

Meanwhile, he expects the Patriots to continue running a no-huddle offense. While its passing game wasn’t particularly effective, USA had a ton of success running in between the tackles. Sophomore running back Max Lange had 26 rushes for 116 yards and a touchdown.

The Braves labored against the running game during a 40-13 loss to then-winless Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted the following week. The Lakers racked up 383 yards on the ground. Additionally, Benson coughed up the ball five times after only having five turnovers in their previous five games.

The Braves (4-2) were disappointed when learning that they received the fourth seed. They hope to take their frustration out on the Patriots.

“I thought the effort was there, but we talked about it right after the (HLWW) game. We said that game is done, our ugly game is out of the way,” Foslien said. “That kind of spurs some motivation, especially with how the seeding went down. Our guys are definitely looking ahead to Tuesday night.”

Section 5A
at Lakeview

No. 5 Lac qui Parle Valley is one of four area teams looking to avenge a regular-season loss when it takes on No. 4 Lakeview at 7 p.m. Tuesday from Cottonwood.


On Oct. 16, the two teams were tied at halftime before the Lakers pulled away with a 14-0 third quarter en route to a 35-22 victory.

“They just outplayed us in the second half,” Eagles head coach Tony Smith said. “I would like to think that we’re a different team at this point and time of the year.”

After falling to Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 34-0 the following week, LQPV’s record dropped to 1-2. However, Smith thinks the R-T-R loss was a turning point to the season. Since then, the Eagles defeated Wheaton/Herman-Norcross 20-14, lost a close battle with Dawson-Boyd 28-25 before erasing an 18-point second-half deficit in a 26-25 triumph at Canby. Against the Lancers, junior running back Dain Mortenson rushed 21 times for 106 yards and a touchdown.

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Lac qui Parle Valley senior running back Carter Amland races to the outside during a Southwest District West Division game against Dawson-Boyd on Nov. 6 from R.B. Clay Field in Dawson. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune

Landon Schirm has emerged as LQPV’s big-play threat. In the last three games, the junior wide receiver has eight grabs for 158 yards (19.8 yards per catch) and has rushed for 132 yards on nine carries. Against Lakeview in Week 2, Schirm had a touchdown reception and returned a punt for a score.

Thanks to the play of its offensive line, LQPV has run the ball well recently. The team averaged 160 rushing yards per game during that three-game stretch. Mixing their looks between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense, the Lakers did hold the Eagles to 43 rushing yards in the regular season, but in their four games since, Lakeview's opponent has averaged 180 yards on the ground.

“They’re a good team and have had a very good year, but we’d like to have another shot at them considering our mental breakdowns or our turnovers that we had (in the first game),” Smith said. “We’ll give it a better shot this time.”


Section 8AAAA

(5) Little Falls at (4) Willmar, 7 p.m.
First meeting this season
Section 6AAA
(5) Montevideo at (4) New London-Spicer, 6 p.m.
First meeting this season
(6) Melrose at (3) Minnewaska, 6 p.m.
First meeting this season
Section 5AA
(5) ACGC at (4) Kimball, 6 p.m.
Met on Oct. 30 - Kimball, 26, @ ACGC 14
Section 4A
(5) Upsala/Swanville at (4) Benson, 6 p.m.
Met on Nov. 6 - @ Benson 20, Upsala/Swanville 18
(7) BBE at (2) Browerville/Eagle Valley, 6 p.m.
Met on Nov. 11 - Browerville/Eagle Valley 45, @ BBE 0
Section 5A
(8) MACCRAY at (1) Minneota, 7 p.m.
Met on Nov. 11 - Oct. 9 - Minneota 47, @ MACCRAY 6
(5) LQPV at (4) Lakeview, 7 p.m.
Met on Oct. 16 - @ Lakeview 35, LQPV 22
(7) YME at (2) BOLD, 7 p.m.
First meeting this season
(6) Canby at (3) Dawson-Boyd, 7 p.m
Met on Oct. 9 - @ Dawson-Boyd 28, Canby 7

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RCW linebacker Jaden Kolker (24) keeps an eye on the backfield before the snap during a game against Sleepy Eye St. Mary's on Oct. 16 in Danube. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

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