Prep football: NLS hopes tough schedule pays off
Wildcats play Pierz for Section 6AAA championship Friday in St. Cloud.
ST. CLOUD — New London-Spicer football coach Chad Gustafson said he believes the Wildcats’ tough schedule has paid dividends in the playoffs.
NLS is one of four teams still playing from the seven-team East Central District South Division.
“We play such a tough schedule of teams that are tough to battle against each week,” Gustafson said. “It’s helped us believe that we can beat quality teams.”
The Wildcats get a quality team at 5 p.m. Friday at St. Cloud Tech High School. NLS plays Pierz for the Section 6AAA championship.
For NLS, it’s a bit of a surprise. The Wildcats are the fourth seed and have a 5-5 record. They upset top-seeded Albany 14-12 in the semifinals. Pierz, the second seed, has a 7-2 record. The Pioneers beat third-seeded Morris/Chokio-Alberta 29-6 in the semifinals.
LIke NLS, it’s not Pierz’s best season by any means. But one of the two is headed to the state tournament.
“Pierz traditionally has had a great program, just as Albany has,” Gustafson said. “For whatever reason, our section did not have that highly ranked, quality team.
“Normally, we’ll have two or three in the top 10 and many years we’ll have all three of us in the top 10.”
Pierz has made the state playoffs 16 times since 1981. The Pioneers won state championships in 2004, ‘15, ‘17 and 19. Current head coach Dan Saehr led the Pioneers to the 2019 title. He was a long-time assistant to Leo Pohlkamp, who retired after the 2018 season.
NLS has been to state five times since 2008, winning a state title in 2009 and taking second in 2013 and ‘14. Dan Essler was head coach of the 2009 team, retiring this season. Gustafson, a long-time Wildcats assistant, took over this year.
Gustafson said the key for NLS is to do what it has done in the playoffs: mix its running and passing games equally on offense. Senior quarterback Kyle Doty, wide receivers Peyton Coahran and Brycen Christensen and tight end Gabe Rohman have been keys to the passing game.
“We feel like we can keep teams off balance,” Gustafson said.
The running game has been led by enormous fullback Connor Rothwell (6-foot-2, 265 pounds, senior) and halfback Mason Delzer (6-0, 170, so.). Delzer has earned a more prominent role as the season has worn on. He rushed for 159 yards on 29 carries in the victory at Albany.
“He started out the year injured and started playing Week 3 or Week 4,” Gustafson said. “He’s really come on.”
The Pioneers’ losses have been to Rockford (20-12 on Sept. 24), Eden Valley-Watkins (34-14 on Oct. 15) and Royalton (16-0 on Oct. 20).
Pierz and NLS have no common opponents.But the Wildcats believe that schedule that has included Dassel-Cokato, Annandale and Litchfield has them ready for anything. All three are in section championship games. NLS beat Annandale (21-17 on Sept. 24) and lost to D-C (41-7 on Oct. 20) and Litchfield (35-9, Oct. 1).
No. 1 Upsala/Swanville Area (7-2) vs. No. 2 Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (7-3), 12:30 p.m. at the FargoDome, Fargo, N.D.
No. 1 Minneota (10-0) vs. No. 2 BOLD (9-1), 4:30 p.m. at Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall
No. 5 Litchfield (7-3) vs. No. 2 Dassel-Cokato (10-0), 7:45 p.m. at Crown College, St. Bonifacius
No. 4 New London-Spicer (5-5) vs. No. 2 Pierz (7-3), 5 p.m. at St. Cloud Tech High School