It’s an unnerving task for opposing defenses, and ultimately an impossible choice.
Do you drop into a traditional defensive look and allow the Faribault offense to rack up yards on the ground, control the time of possession and ultimately the game, or do you stack the box to make the Falcons throw the ball?
Friday night, Winona (3-3) elected to bring one of its safeties up close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Faribault (4-2) responded by letting senior quarterback Hunter Nelson loose to pace a 40-0 victory.
In the first half, Nelson completed 17 of 21 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns to break the program record for passing yards in a single game. Except he did it in a single half.
“Hunter was lights out tonight,” Faribault coach Ned Louis said. “First of all he had time because the offensive line did a great job. Our run game, teams have to respect our run game with how good Matthias (Lenway) is. We’ve got some talented receivers that made plays tonight and Hunter was right on the money in the first half. He just have us a big boost.”
Nelson tossed his three touchdown passes to three different receivers, all with the same play concept.
Since the Winhawks were dragging one of their safeties toward the line of scrimmage to focus on stopping the run, that left just one safety to provide support in the secondary. In response, the Falcons regularly sent receivers on opposite sides of the field straight down the field on go routes to force the safety to pick one way or the other.
Then, Nelson threw to whatever side the safety didn’t choose and let his receiver beat the remaining defender 1-on-1.
With 18 seconds left in the first quarter, senior Isaac Mata did just that before breaking a tackle and strolling in for a 52-yard touchdown reception. With 6:32 left in the second quarter, it was Jordan Klecker’s turn to make a contested catch for a 38-yard touchdown before senior AJ Worrall hauled in a 25-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left in the first half.
Worrall’s reception provided the Falcons with a 26-0 lead at halftime, and was the pass that pushed Nelson into the Faribault record books.
“I was feeling it,” Nelson said. “All our receivers were getting wide open and I was just hitting them on target. They made great plays and great catches.
“With everyone of them I feel comfortable and they all can catch.”
Even with the extra defenders near the line of scrimmage, Faribault’s offensive line still created enough room from senior Matthias Lenway to carry the ball 15 times for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Nelson also carried the ball eight times for 99 yards and a touchdown as part of a dominant performance for the Falcons.
All told, Faribault racked up 512 yards of total offense, with 395 of that coming in the first half before taking the foot off the accelerator.
“It was just really fun,” Nelson said. “It all starts up front with our line. They’re really good and they’re really big and they just move people.”
That was helped by a defense that continuously set the offense up with advantageous field position. In the first half, Ian Ehlers and Johnny Frank came away with interceptions, while Beau Schrot swallowed up a fumble recovery.
In the second half, Schrot added an interception as part of Faribault’s second shutout in the last three weeks.
“Their starting quarterback was hurt so we knew they weren’t going to pass that much, but we knew when they did we wanted to try and get that pick,” Schrot said.
All that resulted in a dominating performance for Faribault against a team that entered the night with the same record.
It also came off a heartbreaking 42-41 loss last week at Class 4A No. 5 Kasson-Mantorville.
“I’m just so proud of this team overall,” Louis said. “That was a tough loss they took last week, and to bounce back and get that taste out of their mouth, it shows a lot of character. We had a great week of practice and I’m so happy for them that they can forget about last week.”
This week delivers another test for Faribault with a trip to play Friday night at Mankato East (5-1). Since losing in the first game of the season at Class 4A No. 4 Stewartville, the Cougars have won five in a row including victories against Winona and Kasson-Mantorville.
“(Winona) and East had a good game two weeks ago,” Louis said. “East beat them 20-14 and East has a lot of weapons. It’s another great test for us, but playing these good teams is only going to make us better.”