Minnewaska ready for showdown with Ottertail Central
A nigh-unstoppable force since their season-opening loss to Holdingford, the 9-1 Minnewaska Lakers will now face their toughest test yet. Minnewaska advanced to the Class AA state tournament with a dramatic comeback win over Paynesville in the Se...
A nigh-unstoppable force since their season-opening loss to Holdingford, the 9-1 Minnewaska Lakers will now face their toughest test yet.
Minnewaska advanced to the Class AA state tournament with a dramatic comeback win over Paynesville in the Section 5AA final Saturday. This advanced them to the state tournament for the first time since 2000.
Their first opponent will be the Section 6AA champions, the undefeated Otter Tail Central Bulldogs. The game kicks off 7 p.m. today at Alexandria High School.
Otter Tail Central is a juggernaut that has scored at least 35 points in eight of its 10 games this year, and has not allowed more than 14 points in any game. The closest deficit in any of their wins was a 20-0 shutout.
“They’re a very good football team and do a lot of things very well,” said Minnewaska head coach Steve Hill. “But our approach has always been what we need to take care of us.”
They’ve managed to do that just fine this year. Since the opening-day loss, the Lakers have reeled off nine consecutive wins, all but one by at least nine points. They’ve been averaging over 33 points per game, spurred on by a group of seniors that Hill had his eye on since they were in junior high.
“I think any coaching staff has a tendency to look and see what’s coming up” said Hill. “And this is a group we’ve had in mind since back when they were in middle school. Just really good athletes that had really good chemistry between them. You could tell we were going to have a pretty good team once they got up to the high school level.”
The Lakers are a rarity at the high school level - a truly balanced offense. Senior running back Greg Helander shoulders most of the load for the Lakers’ ground game, as he’s run for over 85 yards a game on the season, averaging nearly six yards per carry.
But Helander’s rushing is complemented by a passing attack run through senior Michael Gruber, who has thrown for 1,308 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season.
Gruber has two senior weapons at his disposal with Austin VerSteeg and Justin Amundson. Both have over 500 yards receiving and play key roles on defense.
Gruber said he thinks this balance will be key for the Lakers when they face off against the Bulldogs.
“This whole year we’ve had balance, so we’ll look to get both the run and the pass going early and keep them on their heels, try to confuse them,” he said. “Being balanced has worked for us pretty well all year, so we’re going to stick with it.”
Hill said he isn’t worried about his experienced team’s ability to step up to the challenge of the year’s toughest opponent
“I don’t think we’re going to be distracted or shy away,” he said. “I think we’re going to play hard and take care of business on the field. We just need to stay efficient on offense and disciplined on defense.”
Hill’s quarterback agrees with that assessment.
“I think the experience we have is huge,” said Gruber. “It’ll give the young guys some experience, and it’s awesome to finally reach the state tournament after having it as a goal for so long.”
Hill’s been coaching the team for 25 years, and he’s not taking this for granted.
“We’ve really enjoyed the ride so far.”