Opportunity knocks for Hancock Owls
Hancock seeks its first state berth in 29 years Friday in the Section 4 9-Man championship vs. Brandon-Evansville
HANCOCK — The Hancock football program is on the verge of a milestone it hasn’t reached in 29 years.
Following an undefeated regular season and explosive offensive performances through a pair of postseason triumphs, the Owls are one win away from earning a trip to the 9-Man state tournament for the first time since 1990.
Standing in their way is Brandon-Evansville, which Hancock takes on at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Fargodome for the Section 4 9-Man title.
“We’ve talked about it a little bit. We’ve talked a few times, we do it most years on what our goals are and one of our goals is to make it to this game,” head coach Chad Christianson said. “When we’ve had a really good regular season here, the conversation starts to shift to how we’re going to be remembered and where we are going to go. ... It’s been brought up a few times, trying not to hide the elephant that might be in the room and to put it out there that we have something special in front of us that we have an opportunity to take off.”
The two teams met Oct. 16, when the road Owls collected a 16-6 victory.
Brandon-Evansville’s loss on the last day of the regular season is the team’s lone blemish in 2019. Ranked fourth in the state in points scored and points allowed, the Chargers have put up impressive numbers the entire season. Their path to the section final includes a 46-8 blowout over Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley in the quarterfinals and a 34-8 triumph over Verndale in the semifinals.
Now, the team teams meet again with the stakes raised significantly.
“This week is different because we haven’t made it this far in a long time,” senior running back Gideon Joos said. “It’s a whole different atmosphere going to the Fargodome.
“It’s a bigger stadium than what we’re used to. A lot more people are going to be there, but we’re preparing like it’s a normal game. We respect what (the Chargers) do. They’re really good offensively and they’re really good defensively. Overall, they’re a well-put-together team.”
Hancock defeated Brandon-Evansville in the 2018 section quarterfinals, 43-12 to capture its first win over its longtime foe in a decade.
With three winning seasons leading up to 2019, players and coaches alike felt the team was ready to make a leap. In that time, the program has established a successful culture, a far cry from how Christianson’s tenure began in 2010. Through his first five years on the job, the Owls collected two wins, one by forfeit.
The team’s fortunes began to change in 2015 as the coaching staff grew, giving Christianson the aid he needed to build the program. Hancock won two games that season and has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
“We had some pretty good seasons that ended the Saturday before this game and these kids have been a part of that; growing into that tradition for lack of a better word and getting used to what we’re expecting out of them,” Christianson said. “... (The players) came in in really good shape this fall. We kept pushing it and I think that has actually won us a few games this year, too.”
Joos said this year’s group feels fortunate to be a part of what has become a special season.
“The seniors before us and the years past have sacrificed a lot for us to be here today. It’s just absolutely amazing to be able to have the kind of team that we have right now,” Joos added. “Our scout team helps us out every week, making sure we’re ready for our opponent that we are playing. Overall, our starting guys right now have worked their butts off the last three years getting ready for this year, knowing that if we keep working year after year, we’re going to get better as a team. And eventually, we got to this point.”
The Owls opened their season with 44-8 victory on the road against Class AA United North Central before wins over Ortonville and Wheaton/Herman-Norcross pushed their record to 3-0.
In week four, Hancock traveled to Verndale and picked up a 42-6 victory. The Pirates had won their four prior meetings with the Owls by a combined margin of 198-86.
“I always felt like we had something going, but I would have to say it was the Verndale game that changed things,” senior offensive lineman Parker Schmidgall said. “We never beat Verndale; it’d been a while since we beat Verndale until that point. Seeing that, it was like: ‘Hey, I guess we can really do something. Let’s see where this goes.’”
Hancock is currently the No. 1 team in QRF (quality results formula, per the website Minnesota-Scores.Net) with a 46.3 rating. It has won nine of its 10 games by double figures.
On Friday, an opportunity at the program’s first state appearance in 29 years hangs in the balance. Awaiting the Owls is an environment the team has yet to experience. Coupled with the undefeated mark, they are facing a team they beat a little more than two weeks ago. Hancock is the favorite, but undoubtedly has more pressure on its back.
But given where the program has come from, the players and coaches embrace their present position.
“It’s one of those things where they know that they’ve been climbing a mountain since they’ve been freshmen and to start to get to the top of that has been a badge of honor for them,” Christianson said.