Football: It's New London-Spicer's big 'O' vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton's big 'D'
Wildcats' high-powered offense must deal with Rebels' sturdy, experienced defense in Class AAA title game at the Prep Bowl
MINNEAPOLIS — Down but never out. Finding a way.
Through four postseason games, New London-Spicer has trailed in all of them before marching their way to victories.
Now the Wildcats have punched their ticket into the Prep Bowl for the third time in program history, where they will face the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Rebels at 1 p.m. Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"My guess is nobody expected it except for us," NLS head coach Chad Gustafson said. "But, of course, our kids believe in each other. We're super excited to be representing (New London-Spicer) and be playing for the state championship."
The Wildcats, who are out-scoring their opponents 99-62 in the postseason, will look to score the game's opening touchdown Saturday for the first time in playoff play.
NLS' 33-28 win over Watertown-Mayer in the Class AAA semifinals marked the first postseason game the Wildcats held a lead into halftime.
"The most impressive thing is (the kids) just don't get rattled. We've talked about being resilient. We've talked about believing in each other and supporting one another and it shows on the field," Gustafson said. "There's no panic at all when we don't score. They know that. They believe in each other that it's going to turn our way."
On the opposing sideline, D-G-F is one win away from topping off its historic season with a Prep Bowl title. The Rebels remain unbeaten through eight regular season and four postseason games.
Saturday's championship game will mark the Rebels' first appearance in the Prep Bowl in program history. Including this postseason, D-G-F has appeared in the state tournament eight times.
"(The kids) now have an opportunity in front of them to write a little bit of history," D-G-F head coach Anthony Soderberg said. "The kids have worked hard and this is a big opportunity. It's a big event for both communities and just making it to the game is pretty special."
D-G-F enters the Prep Bowl with a core of experienced players.
Leafing the way is Rebels quarterback/free safety Owen Leach and running back/strong safety Jordan Summers. Both have played since they were freshman. Left guard/nose guard Victor Sosa has played both sides of the ball for three years. Right tackle/defensive tackle Max Baumgartner has played both ways for two years. These four seniors serve as D-G-F's captains.
"Experience is a big thing with this group," Soderberg said. "It's hard to frazzle this group. I think that's why we're at that 12-0 mark."
That experience and mental toughness has helped the Rebels to win close games. Six of their 12 victories this season have come in one-possession games.
"We've definitely been battle-tested," Soderberg said. "We've had some close, nerve-wracking games to the point where it's not nerve-wracking anymore."
D-G-F's defense has allowed 40 points through four postseason games.
The Rebels' defense will have the task of stopping an NLS offense that is averaging 24.75 points per game in the playoffs.
"I would say that's been the strength of the D-G-F football program for a long time," Soderberg said of his team's defense, which is coached by long-time defensive coordinator Jesse Barnacle. "It's playing sound, fundamental defense, focusing on tackling, keeping things in front of you and making people earn those points."
D-G-F operates as a run-heavy offense led by Summers, who ran for 168 yards and one touchdown on 33 attempts in the Rebels' 16-7 win over Fairmont in the Class AAA semifinals before exiting the game with a knee injury.
Soderberg declined to comment on Summers' status for Saturday's title game Monday morning. If Summers is unable to go, it would come as a major loss for the Rebels' offense.
Summers has eclipsed 2,000 rushing yards with 2,186 yards and 22 touchdowns on 336 carries through 12 games. He is averaging 182.2 rushing yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry this season, according to MN Football Hub .
"(Jordan)'s a tough kid. I can speak to that. He's a tough kid. He's a wrestler, so we'll see," Soderberg said. "He's got good vision and good feet. He's just a workhorse running back."
Gustafson wants his team to slow D-G-F's running game in order to control the time of possession and remain turnover free.
"(The Rebels) can really pound the rock. They are a really good running football team," Gustafson said. "They want to keep the ball as much as they can. I know they're going to be able to run some clock, but if we can minimize that and get a few stops, that would be huge."
Soderberg also recognizes how crucial remaining turnover-free will be Saturday.
"We've got to protect the football. We can't turn the ball over," Soderberg said. "The turnover battle is huge."
NLS will look to add their second Prep Bowl title in program history. The Wildcats first state championship came in 2009.
"We're just excited to get down there, get in the stadium, give it everything we've got and see what we can do against them. They're undefeated, so nobody's figured them out yet," Gustafson said. "We look forward to the challenge.
"I feel like we played a good schedule this year, so hopefully that'll help us, but we know they're a really good program and a really good team."
New London-Spicer offense
QB: So. Blake Schultz
FB: Jr. Lucas Swenson
RB: Jr. Mason Delzer
WR: Sr. Gabe Rohman
WR: Sr. Brycen Christensen
TE: Jr. Grant Paffrath
OT: Jr. Marshel Johnson
OG: Sr. Luke Wosmek
C: Sr. Brycen Bergh
OG: Jr. Jack Hanson
OT: Sr. Isaiah Klein
New London-Spicer defense
DT: Sr. Wyatt Steele
DE: Jr. Brody Duke
LB: Sr. Hunter Downey
LB: Jr. Luke Knudsen
QB: Sr. Owen Leach
RB: Sr. Jordan Summers
RB: Jr. Nick Waale
WR: Sr. Drew Sheeley
WR: So. Tommy Rehder
TE: Jr. Brody O'Keefe
TE: Jr. Thomas Thureen
OT: Jr. Aiden Edeen
OG: Sr. Victor Sosa
C: Sr. Bryce Fischer
OG: Sr. Kolton Wagner
OT: Sr. Max Baumgartner
K: So. Hayden Hauf
DT (NG): Sosa
LB: So. Ethan Hellerud
LB: So. Caleb Johnson
CB: Jr. Brody Friend