Football: NLS knows about the Royals
New London-Spicer opened the season with a wild loss to Watertown-Mayer. The two meet in the state Class AAA semifinals with a Prep Bowl berth on the line.
MINNEAPOLIS — After defeating a familiar opponent in the Class AAA quarterfinals, the New London-Spicer Wildcats will take on another familiar foe Saturday in the semifinals.
With a trip to the state championship on the line, the Wildcats face the Watertown-Mayer Royals at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"Obviously the biggest problem is they're good. And, of course, if you're in the state semifinals, everybody's good," NLS head coach Chad Gustafson said of the Royals. "We're looking forward to competing at a high level against them and we have the can-do, never-give-up attitude."
NLS and Watertown-Mayer met on Sept. 9. The Royals secured a 38-36 victory after senior Ashton Hecksel hit a 47-yard game-winning field goal.
A kicking weapon like Hecksel and a weather-controlled game environment brings comfort to Watertown-Mayer head coach Andrew Phillips' Royals.
"If we get within the 25-yard line, we got a chance to get points on the board. It is really comforting for me as a coach," Phillips said. "I know that for our players too, that gives them a peace of mind."
In the Sept. 8 game, it was a tale of two different offenses.
NLS sophomore quarterback Blake Schultz threw for more than 300 yards with five touchdowns. Royals senior running back Wyatt McCabe ran for more 190 yards and four touchdowns and senior quarterback Albert Rundell also found the end zone with his legs once. Rundell is a three-year starter.
"Blake had a tremendous game all in just his second varsity start," Gustafson said. "McCabe's much like Jack Schoenborn from Milaca. He's very quick and can cut very well. ... Rundell can throw the ball all over the place. It makes them tough to defend."
Gustafson and Phillips mentioned how this time around, their teams need to minimize big plays on defense.
"Our defense has played championship winning football (lately)," Gustafson said of his defense that has allowed 34 points in three post-season games. "I can't say enough good things about how well they have played against some very good teams down the stretch. ... We can't give them a lot of big plays."
NLS surged to an early 14-0 lead against Watertown-Mayer in the Sept. 8 game. Schultz found senior split end Gabe Rohman for an 88-yard touchdown and senior split end Brycen Christensen for a 30-yard touchdown.
All five of Schultz's passing touchdowns went for more than 10 or more yards.
"The biggest thing for us to be successful Saturday is we have to — number one — limit their big plays," Phillips said. "(NLS) has big play potential. ... They put you in a a lot of difficult positions."
In what Gustafson is anticipating to be a low-scoring affair, he wants his team to be more consistent and take care of the football on offense against a Watertown-Mayer team that is big up front.
"We're just looking for more consistency on some of our drives — we make some good plays and then we stub our toe," Gustafson said. "They're very big up front, so we'll have to really work on our blocking scheme to be able to move the ball on them."
Phillips named seniors Joey Meier, Jason Fenske, Ian Burau and Nick Anderstrom as key contributors for the Royals. All four play on the defensive line and all but Burau are apart of the offensive line.
"They are as good of a defensive line unit as we've had in my five years here. They've done a really great job," Phillips said. "Those are some guys that have really led us to where we're at."
Gustafson and thbe Wildcats look to make the state championship for the first time since 2014.
"We're just super excited to be playing at U.S. Bank Stadium," Gustafson said. "Now it feels like the state tournament. We're looking forward to a great crowd. We're going to give it our all and see where it falls."
For a Royals team that went 0-9 when their 18 seniors were freshmen, they look to close out their high school careers on a high note.
"It sure has been a journey. It has even been a journey this season," Phillips said. "For them to be here, it's pretty amazing when you sit back and look at it."
The winner between NLS and Watertown-Mayer advances to the Class AAA state championship and competes against the winner between Fairmont and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, at U.S. Bank Stadium.