Football: RCW Jaguars keep an even keel
With opportunities to panic, Renville County West has instead stayed calm on its way to a fourth straight section title game
COTTONWOOD — The Section 2 Nine-Man finals are becoming familiar territory for the Renville County West football team.
At 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lakeview High School, the Jaguars will play in their fourth straight section championship game. And they’ll look to become section champions for the fourth straight season.
After an 8-0 regular season and another trip to state on the line, RCW head coach Ryan Hebrink hasn’t seen a squad that’s been overwhelmed by expectations.
“That’s probably been one of the things I’ve been the most impressed with is that they don’t get rattled,” Hebrink said. “We’ve had a couple games that very well could have gotten away from us and yet, they just keep their composure. They just keep playing and they rally around one another.”
Standing in the way of a quartet of section titles are the 8-1 Hancock Owls.
In the Jaguars’ recent string of success, the Jaguars and Owls have met once. In the Nine-Man state quarterfinals in 2019, Hancock beat RCW 32-20. The Owls finished as the state runner-up that season.
“From a coaching standpoint, we sure remember that game very clearly,” Hebrink said. “(We remember) how prepared and how well coached they are and how hard they played.”
Years later, Hebrink says he sees a lot of similarities from the 2019 Hancock team to the 2022 iteration.
“It’s going to be one of those really fun games that you can look back on and say it was just a hard, fun game,” Hebrink said. “That’s what we anticipate. They certainly are going to bring a lot of energy, a lot of effort and I think we will, too.”
The Owls feature one of the top offenses in Nine-Man football, averaging 48.2 points per game. The No. 2 seed in the section, Hancock advanced with a 32-14 win against No. 3 Cedar Mountain.
Against the Cougars on Saturday, the Owls compiled 356 yards of total offense and 23 first downs.
Senior quarterback Davin Rose completed 17 of 30 passes for 238 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also ran for a team-high 60 yards and two TDs on 11 carries.
“Their quarterback, he has a nice arm, he’s shifty and can run well,” Hebrink said. “They got a couple good targets that they can get the ball out to.”
Rose’s top target is senior Jackson Koehl. The 6-foot-1 wideout had six catches for 113 yards and two scores against Cedar Mountain. Senior Dain Schroeder also hauled in four receptions for 46 yards.
Sophomore Chase Evink helps shoulder the load at running back. He had 15 carries for 57 yards on Saturday.
Since taking their only loss — 36-14 to top-ranked Wheaton/Herman-Norcross in Week 4 — the Owls have outscored their opponents 264-66 while winning five straight.
“They have a variety of guys that can get it done,” Hebrink said.
Not to be outdone, their defense has held teams to 14.9 points per game.
“They’re aggressive and they tackle well and theyr rally to the ball extremely well,” Hebrink said. “For us to be able to sustain our blocks and create those little gaps is going to be a big part of if we can have some success.”
Just like Hancock, RCW is peaking in the second half of the season. After a narrow six-point victory over Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s in Week 8, the Jaguars responded with a 44-6 win in the section semifinals Saturday.
“I was really pleased with how well our guys played this most recent game against Sleepy Eye,” Hebrink said. “They found a way, especially in that second half, where they did a couple minor adjustments and they ran with it.”
RCW’s success has been in the ground game. RCW ran the ball 50 times for 299 yards and four touchdowns against SESM. Jasen Jansen was the catalyst with 121 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. He has 1,115 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
AJ Gasca ran for 74 yards and a score on Saturday, and Luki Hale scored twice on three carries for 26 yards.
“When you can have that many attempts and that many yards, you know you’re going to keep the time of possession in your favor,” Hebrink said. “That’s a big part of our success so far this season. We got a really strong line and some really good running backs. We got to keep the ball in our hands and keep moving those chains. And the benefit with that, too, is if teams overload, we have the threats to put the ball in the air, too.”