Prep football: Retooling Bulldogs expect no quarter
The 2015 Paynesville football team knew the upcoming season would be tough, just by looking around their locker room and noticing who wasn't there anymore.
The 2015 Paynesville football team knew the upcoming season would be tough, just by looking around their locker room and noticing who wasn’t there anymore.
When they look outside those walls at who will be lining up to take them on beginning Aug. 22, the challenge looks even more daunting.
The Bulldogs were 19-2 the two previous seasons, with both losses not coming until section championship games. They were a marvelous offensive machine, with record-setting quarterback Matt Quade leading an outfit that averaged 48 points last year and 41 points in 2013 .
But they enter this season having lost starters at 17 of 22 offensive and defensive positions, and the school’s switch from the West Central Conference to the Central Minnesota this season may have a profound impact on its football schedule.
Paynesville’s eight-game slate consists of four teams that played in the Minnesota state football tournament last season.
Two other opponents advanced to section championship games and another gave the Bulldogs a game in the Section 5AA semifinals last year. Of the eight teams, only 3-6 Rockford had a sub-.500 record in 2014.
“There is nothing quite as refining as a hot fire,” said Bulldogs seventh-year head coach Max Meagher. “Our ‘Players to Watch’ are unproven at this point.”
The Bulldogs’ returning starters are senior guard Noah Kubat and senior tackle Matthew Floura on offense, and junior linebacker Brent Burg and two defensive ends, senior Nathan Stang and junior Gavin Stanger, on defense.
Burg, Collin Riley and Grant Thompson have gotten playing time on offense in the past and will be counted on to carry loads this fall.
“A lot of our potential starters have gained valuable playing time over the past two years on a rotational basis and have done well,” Meagher said. “The key for us is if those players will be able to continue that success now that they are counted on.”
And the counting on begins right out of the gate. Here’s how the Bulldogs’ 2015 schedule breaks down:
At BOLD - The Warriors were 12-2 and the 2014 Class AA runners-up last year, defeating Paynesville in the Section 5AA title game to earn their state berth. But Paynesville has won two straight against BOLD in Olivia, and there’s no doubt the Warriors are thinking about that.
At Rockford - The Rockets haven’t won more than five games in a season since an 8-4 season in 2007, so this might be the Bulldogs’ one breather this fall.
Holdingford - The Huskers defeated BOLD in the Class AA state championship game last fall and finished 11-3.
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted - The Lakers were 7-4 last year and lost to 10-2 Maple Lake in the Section 4AA final.
At Eden Valley-Watkins - The Eagles were 5-5 last year but put up 33 points against Paynesville in a loss in the 5AA semifinals.
Pierz - The Pioneers were 11-1 last year and lost to eventual Class AAA state champion Rochester Lourdes 25-24 in overtime in the state semifinals.
Maple Lake - The Lakers finished 10-2 last year and earned a state tournament berth before losing to Caledonia in the state quarterfinals.
Melrose (at St. John’s) - The Dutchmen were 8-3 last year, losing in the Section 6AAA finals to New London-Spicer, which went on to its second-straight Class AAA championship game.
It’s a “brutal” schedule, Meagher said, but the Bulldogs aren’t expecting sympathies.
“We aren’t going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves because we know that there aren’t any other teams in the area that will feel sorry for us,” Meagher said. “There is no substitute for experience and our kids are going to get thrown right into the fire.”