Two teams with double-digit winning streaks collide Saturday in Alexandria when undefeated, No. 6 Minneota (11-0) faces No. 8 Mahnomen (10-1) in the Minnesota Class A state quarterfinals.
Since an opening week loss to Class AA Hawley, the Indians have rattled off 10 consecutive victories putting up no less than 30 points in each win. The Indians are coming off an eighth consecutive section final victory taking out Fertile-Beltrami 30-12 at Fargodome.
Minneota has lambasted their opponents to a perfect record including topping 80 points in a game twice. BOLD gave Minneota their only tight game of the year in the Section 5A final falling 35-22 at Southwest Minnesota State University last Friday.
Mahnomen has had to continue the season without 1,000-yard rusher Izaiah Asher, who is sidelined after breaking his leg in the section semifinals.
It’s the second time in three seasons that a late injury has created havoc in the Indians’ backfield. Quarterback Tommy Pavek was knocked out by a horse collar tackle at New York Mills in week seven of 2015.
Against the Falcons last week, it took a half of football to reignite the offense in Asher’s absence.
“We’re more inside oriented, kind of lose that threat on the perimeter, which hurts us, because teams like to stack it up on the inside and he was a threat to catch the ball too,” head coach John Clark, Jr. said.
Mahnomen’s running game has morphed from attacking outside to pounding the ball between the tackles with Dan Snetsinger and Chris Busche.
“We’re versatile enough with Snetsinger and Busche,” said Clark. “They can hurt you too with those dives. We have some things in place if people load up and want to take away Jon. It’s a cat and mouse game sometimes when you have a player like that.”
Quarterback Jon Starkey has been prolific this season rushing for 1,700 yards on 248 attempts and scoring a team-high 29 touchdowns. In the section final, Starkey rushed for 236 yards and three touchdowns on 29 attempts. The 6-foot, 190-pound junior gained 141 of those yards in the second half.
“We figured things out at halftime,” Starkey said. “It was new not having Izaiah back there. We just got the line going and once there are holes it’s a lot easier.”
Busche moved into the backfield from the line after Asher went down. Busche, who wears No. 50, had a one-yard touchdown run that gave Mahnomen a 30-12 lead with 4:46 to play against the Falcons. He played on both lines and at fullback during the game.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Busche rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. The Indians rushed for more than 400 yards in the game.
Despite the lineup changes, Mahnomen was back to their usual success running the football.
“We have two eighth graders on the offensive line and it takes them a while to figure out exactly who to block on every play,” said Clark. “Especially, when teams are changing their fronts and Fertile was doing that a bit. Once we were able to calm them down at halftime you could tell they were seeing what we’re saying and getting more comfortable. We’re not deep, in fact, we’re razor thin, but our offensive line does tend to wear teams down in our area. I thought we did that. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do that against Minneota but we’re sure as hell going to try.”
Ball control will be key for Mahnomen against a Vikings team making their 14th state appearance.
Minneota is the highest scoring team in Class A averaging a robust 54.2 points per game, while allowing 9.5, seventh best out of the 61 teams.
Mahnomen is scoring 36.7 ppg and allowing 18.5.
The Indians defense will be concerned with the Vikings’ 6-foot-3, 225-pound running back Isaac Hennen. Hennen ran the ball 35 times against BOLD gaining 210 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“We’ll watch film and figure out what formations he’s going to get the ball in,” Starkey said. “You definitely have to key on him. He’s a good player.”
Hennen surpassed 1,000 yards rushing this season gaining 1,249 on 122 carries with 18 touchdowns. He is also the leading receiver making 42 receptions for 763 yards and 10 touchdowns.
He set Minneota's career scoring record with over 80 touchdowns and is currently third all-time in Vikings’ career rushing history.
Both teams have been dominant in recent years. Mahnomen and Minneota have been at the top of Class A football and owned the state title for a four-year span.
Minneota won back-to-back Class A championships 2014-15 after Mahnomen won back-to-back state titles 2012-13.
This is the Indians’ 26th state appearance, the most all-time in Minnesota football shared with Totino-Grace. Mahnomen will combine with Waubun sports at the beginning of this winter season to become the Mahnomen-Waubun Thunderbirds.
That is a secondary thought to the task at hand Saturday for Indians’ players.
“We’re just trying to figure out our season and we’ll worry about that next year,” said Starkey. “We’re trying to find a way to win this year and finish on top.”
The Indians hold eight state championships in four different Class structures and have been the runner-up five times.
Mahnomen’s 26 State Football Appearances
1979 Runner-up Class B
1980 Champion Class B
1982 Runner-up Class B
1985 Runner-up Class B
1989 Runner-up Class C
1990 Champion Class C
1991 Champion Class C
1992 Champion Class C
1993 Champion Class C
1998 Champion Class AA
2011 Runner-up Class A
2012 Champion Class A
2013 Champion Class A