Cael Casteel

Faribault’s Cael Casteel, No. 33, dove at Austin quarterback with No. 66 Devin Lockerby in pursuit. Faribault is at Class AA No. 3 Winona 7 p.m. Friday. (Mike Randleman/Faribault Daily News)

3-and-out with the Winona Winhawks

- The Winhawks have made no bones about it. They’re after a Class AAAA state title. Winona made the state semifinals in 2017 and state quarterfinals in 2018 with unbeaten regular seasons each year. Friday’s matchup with Section 1A mate, Faribault, is a 7 p.m. start at Paul Giel Field in Winona. A new rule is in effect beginning this week at Winona disallowing re-entry into the stadium without the purchase of another ticket.

- Winona is ranked No. 3 in the first Class AAAA state poll released this week. It won 33-7 last week at Albert Lea. The Winhawks led 33-0 at halftime and rested their starters for all but one series of the second half.

- Faribault is a young team where as Winona returns key starters at virtually every position save for receiver and in the defensive backfield. The Falcons will have a chip on their shoulder after running into Winona the past two years in the section playoffs. Last year’s meeting was won 42-7 in a game to go to state.

When Falcons have the ball

The key for Faribault on offense is using the whole field. While Faribault has some size up front, it’s inexperienced and not quite as large as the experienced Winhawk front led by Aaron Witt. The defensive end Witt measures 6-foot-6, 230 pounds and is committed to the University of Wisconsin where he’ll play outside linebacker. Witt blocked a punt last week and will put pressure on Faribault’s quarterback platoon.

Head coach Ned Louis hopes to get down to one quarterback in the coming weeks, but for now will continue with the rotation of junior Nick Ehlers and senior Bryce Nolen. Both were sub-50% passing. In a 19-12 loss to Austin, both Falcon touchdowns occured in the second quarter with Ehlers at the helm. He completed eight balls for 110 yards playing the second and fourth quarters. Nolen completed two passes for 16 yards in the first and third quarters.

Whoever is under center will look to wide receiver Nick Flom (52 yards) and Dylan Lippert (40 yards) among others in hopes of finding success on the perimeter with sweeps, quick passes and mixed looks to try to keep a stingy defense off balance.

Faribault managed one touchdown in each of its two games against Winona in 2018.

Inside linebacker/fullback Sam Kanne, senior linebacker/running back Trevor Pomeroy, senior lineman Ethan Prodzinski, senior lineman Bennett Heftman and senior defensive back/receiver Austin Mlynczak earned all-Big Southeast District honors in 2018. Mylynczak led the team with 85 tackles last year and Kanne led with 103 in 2017, per the Winona Daily News.

The key departure is Terrell Hall. The cornerback/wide receiver graduated and is now on the North Dakota State University defense.

When Winhawks

have the ball

Winona is led by second-year senior starting quarterback Jackson Nibbelink and bell cow senior running back Trevor Pomeroy. Nibbelink stands tall at 6-foot-4, 180 pounds. He has athleticism to run, but was not asked to do so often in 2018. That could change with the loss of Hall and other lead receiver Ethan Ringo. The passing game looked fine against Albert Lea, a two-win team from 2018, as Nibbelink was 7-for-9 with 177 yards and three touchdowns. Mlynczak caught a touchdown and Dayne Gamoke scored on a 67-yarder. Nibbelink ran for 32 yards and two touchdowns. Faribault hopes it poses a tougher test this week.

The defense wasn’t the issue against Austin last week. It played 26 minutes, 43 seconds of a 48-game and limited the Packers to 234 yards, much of which came on a few chunk plays. All three Austin scoring drives began in opposing territory.

The Packers were a work in progress under a new head coach, however, and the Winhawks present a much larger challenge. Literally. The line, when healthy, lists 6-5/270 pounds, 6-3/245, 6-3/250, 6-4/230 and 6-6/230. One starter, Bennett Heftman, will be out.

Pomeroy set the school’s single-season rushing record with 1,610 yards in 2018 to go with 15 touchdowns. He went for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries against Faribault in the playoffs.

Key to the game

Create a little luck. The Falcons will have to throw the kitchen sink at the Winhawks to be the first team to win at Paul Giel Field since 2015. That means hitting some big plays out to the perimeter, taking chances down field or with trick plays, and making some magic on special teams.

Coach says

“It’s always a tough week with school starting and you can be a little sluggish, but our kids are responding. We just defensively have to stay away from big plays. Offensively, we can’t have negative plays.” — Faribault coach Ned Louis

Reach Sports Editor Mike Randleman at 507-333-3119 or on Twitter @fdnmike.

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