Only 28 Minnesota high school football teams in the state get to say they played at U.S. Bank Stadium every year, and New York Mills has one of them. That’s how the Eagles will remember their 2021 season.
Saturday didn't go how the Eagles envisioned it during the week. In going up against one of the best Class A teams in the state, New York Mills suffered a 41-6 loss to Mayer Lutheran, the Section 2A champions. Crusaders’ senior quarterback Ty Hoese threw five touchdown passes on nine completions for 221 yards.
"I felt like they could throw the ball," New York Mills head coach Matt Radniecki said on preparing for Mayer Lutheran. “They threw it really well. It's not to say that we didn't give stuff up, but when you have a kid that can drop it 45, 50 yards like that, I mean (Hoese is) really athletic. We didn't necessarily see that on film because they dominate a lot of their games on film. We were kind of wondering, how good are they? Some of the teams they beat weren't as good as they were."
New York Mills went three-and-out on its first possession before the Crusaders broke through with the game's first score on a two-play, 93-yard touchdown drive. Hoese found tight end Tiegen Martin for a 33-yard touchdown connection.
After Mayer Lutheran forced another three-and-out, Martin returned a blocked punt 40-yards to the house to put the Crusaders up 14-0.
"It gives us a bunch of confidence," Hoese said on scoring two touchdowns early in the first quarter," We talk about it in the pregame. We have to start fast. That really determined the game. We came out with a lot of intensity, and our coaches do a good job of getting us ready to go."
Hoese found Elijah Jopp twice in the first half to go up 28-0. The first was a 40-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter before a 62-yard strike early in the second. New York Mills struggled to get pressure in the backfield going up against Mayer Lutheran's veteran offensive line.
"Their line is incredible. Their line was just, oh my gosh. I hope they're all seniors," Radniecki said with a laugh.
The Eagles got on the board with under three minutes left in the first half. After Jonah Johnson picked off Hoese in Mayer Lutheran territory, New York Mills quarterback Bren Salo found Noah Noffsinger on 4th-and-13 for a 16-yard touchdown pass. Noffsinger rose above two Crusader defenders in the corner of the end zone before getting one foot in bounds.
The Crusaders would score two more times in the second half to leave no doubt in who deserved to take on Minneota for the Class A state championship.
"(Mayer Lutheran) is a pretty good football team," Radniecki said. "They're a well-coached, big, strong team–well disciplined. (They're) a very good team. I'm very proud of our team. We've come a long way this year. Last week, against Deer River, people said we weren't going to win. Pine River-Backus in the section playoffs, people said we weren't going to win. We kept battling. We got 10 wins, the most in our school history."
Even in a 35-point loss, getting to the state semifinal is a culture-shifting accomplishment for New York Mills. The Eagles made it to state for the first time since 2007.
"Being here will only make it better," Radniecki said of what playing at U.S. Bank Stadium can do for the program. "It's been a community thing for as long as I can remember. We had fourth graders and third graders who were out on the playground this week drawing up plays wanting to be Bren Salo, Jonah Johnson and Braeden Peterson. My son was one of them. I think it has an impact all the way through."
Radniecki admitted that Saturday was a monumental day for him. The 28-year head coach of the New York Mills football team is likely stepping down after the best season in program history.
"I'll probably get a little emotional for an old-time coach," Radniecki said. "This is my last year, probably. I'm retiring, and these guys led me (to U.S. Bank Stadium). I'm very appreciative of not only these seniors but this whole team. Thank you."
For the nine seniors, Saturday was the end of the road. But finishing among the final four Class A teams on the state's grandest stage will be a positive thing to look back on.
"It's unbelievable to play at U.S. Bank Stadium," Salo said. "It doesn't get any better than that, especially to finish our careers here. These fans–we've had them the whole way. They've been behind us. Even when we were down, they were still cheering for us. The fans play a big part, and for them to (come to U.S. Bank Stadium) from such a small town is unbelievable."
"It was a really great experience to get here and keep on fighting all the way until the end," Peterson said. "I'm glad I got to end my career here going out with a fight."
NEW YORK MILLS 0 6 0 0 - 6
MAYER LUTHERAN 21 7 13 0 - 41
SCORING- FIRST QUARTER- Mayer Lutheran- Ty Hoese 33-yard touchdown pass to Tiegen Martin, Connor Olsen PAT good, 7-0, 9:11; Mayer Lutheran- Martin 40-yard blocked punt return, Olsen PAT good, 14-0, 7:39; Mayer Lutheran- Hoese 40-yard TD pass to Elijah Jopp, Olsen PAT good, 21-0, 1:02; SECOND QUARTER- Mayer Lutheran- Hoese 62-yard TD pass to E. Jopp, Olsen PAT good, 28-0, 10:12; New York Mills- Bren Salo 16-yard TD pass to Noah Noffsinger, two-point conversion no good, 28-6, 2:21; THIRD QUARTER- Mayer Lutheran- Hoese 15-yard TD pass to Samuel Dennis, Olsen PAT good, 5:07; Mayer Lutheran- Hoese 43-yard TD pass to Abram Jopp, PAT no good, 41-6, 0:32
(Full stats from Saturday's Class A semifinal action will be updated on Sunday.)