ROCHESTER — Early in the first quarter, the Rochester John Marshall student’s section was understandably excited about how their favorite team had started the game. In the span of less than four minutes, the Rockets had forced a turnover, converted on fourth down and did something no team had accomplished against Owatonna’s starting defense through seven weeks: Score a rushing touchdown.
So, there the students were: Tightly-packed into the lower left corner of the grandstand and going crazy after Parker Navitsky scampered into the end zone from 13 yards out with 9 minutes, 19 seconds on the clock.
As the Huskies took the field after the ensuing kickoff, the loud and indiscriminate cheers from the home side of the stadium transformed into a coordinated chant that could be heard well across the field on the visiting sideline.
“Over-rated! Over-rated! Over-rated! Over-rated!”
If the Huskies were looking for something to motivate them after a slow start and kindle the flame in a contest that had zero bearing on its postseason position and no impact on its Red Division championship, they found it.
Top-ranked Owatonna wasted little time in their rebuttal to John Marshall’s opening salvo and rolled up 40 unanswered points before halftime and sailed to a 54-7 Big Southeast District Red Division victory at John Drews Field.
“Oh yeah,” Owatonna senior Ethan Walter said after the game when asked if he could hear the “overrated” chant. “Me and Matt (Williams) split out next to each other and looked at each other in disbelief that they actually did that. Those types of things don’t affect us negatively, though. We just look at it as more of a compliment. That’s what non-believers fail to understand.”
If there are any remaining parties hanging on to the notion that Owatonna had lost a step after the graduation of Jason Williamson, or that the team was, indeed, “overrated,” they were probably standing alone at this point.
Beginning with a 44-7 blowout against Rochester Century in Week 1 and concluding with another one-sided victory over John Marshall on Wednesday, the Huskies have spent the better part of the last eight weeks dispelling any doubts about the program in the post-Williamson era, and outside of a close call against state-ranked Mankato West, have dispatched the opposition in lop-sided fashion. Owatonna finished the Big Southeast district schedule 8-0 for the second consecutive season, out-scored their opponents by an average of 47-9 and extended the team’s winning streak to 27 games.
“Looking back at all the hard work and two-a-days, there is a small glimpse of being able to enjoy this tonight, but there are many more games ahead that we need to focus-up on,” Walter said. “I mean, 8-0 really doesn’t mean anything at that point. But it will be nice to enjoy it right now.”
Walter played a huge part in the Huskies’ final act of the regular season, returning from a nagging injury that had sidelined him for two games to catch four passes for 110 yards and one touchdown, finding the end zone from 80 yards out exactly 64 seconds after the Rockets’ scored their one-and-only touchdown.
“It’s good to have Wallie back,” Williams said. “He’s a difference-maker out there and it allows us to rotate receivers a little bit instead of having the other three constantly out on the field. And a lot of those guys play defense as well, so that was a nice opportunity to be able to get Wallie back out there and keep guys fresh. He’s a game-breaker.”
Payton Beyer once again put his fingerprints all over the game and had seismic impact on the outcome. Not only did he snare a touchdown pass from Brayden Truelson to give Owatonna a multi-score lead, but also brought back one of his two interceptions for a touchdown and scooped a fumble and returned it to the Rockets’ 1-yard line. His pick-6 in the middle of the second quarter exterminated any hope the Rockets had of staying in the game as it gave Owatonna a 30-7 lead.
“I just caught it and saw everyone peeling back and making blocks,” Beyer said of what he saw on the interception he returned for a touchdown. “I just ran, found daylight and got into the end zone.”
Added Owatonna coach Jeff Williams: “He likes going after the ball. He is a special kind of athlete and he just absolutely goes after the football wherever it is it space. It is amazing how many times that effort pays off for him. He had very nice hands, so when he gets there, he can make something happen and he’s obviously pretty elusive. That interception return was pretty amazing.”
In just two quarters of action, Truelson finished 11-for-15 for 183 yards and two touchdowns, one to Walter and one to Beyer. Fresh off a career-high 190 yards against Mankato West last Friday, Tanner Hall led the Owatonna ground attack with 86 yards on 15 carries to go with one touchdown. Sol Havelka pushed forward for a short TD run with 3:19 on the clock after Beyer’s scoop-and-run in the second quarter and added a perfectly-placed 55-yard bomb to Matt Williams on the Huskies’ first drive of the third quarter to help make it 47-7.
Sam Henson quietly continued to manufacture one of Owatonna’s best single-season kicking performances by drilling another two field goals — one of which sailed through from 34 yards out — while adding three booming touchbacks. He also made all six of his extra point tries.
After John Marshall’s opening drive, the Huskies buckled down and yielded just two more first downs until the fourth quarter. The Rockets finished with just 142 yards of total offense — a large chunk of which came in the fourth quarter against Owatonna’s second and third-stringers — and completed just 4 of 18 passes for 68 yards. They mustered just 74 yards on the ground on 23 carries and finished with six turnovers.
Isaac Gefre had a number of bone-crushing tackles and picked off a pass late in the second quarter.
Owatonna lost a fumble on the second play from scrimmage and aided the Rockets (3-5 overall, 2-4 Red Division) on their opening possession by extending the drive with a penalty on fourth down.
With John Marshall leading 7-0, the Huskies faced a 3rd-and-7 from the their 20-yard line when Walter caught a pass in stride near the left sideline before zipping past his defender and out-racing a number of black jerseys into the end zone to get Owatonna on the board.
“My legs turned to Jell-O and I thought, ‘man, I’m going to get caught,’” Walter joked after the game. “But I didn’t and I found the end zone.”
The Huskies got the ball back less than two minutes later and manufactured its longest drive of the game, meticulously marching from their own 43 to the John Marshall 6-yard line in 12 plays, setting up Henson’s go-ahead field goal from 23 yards out with 1:45 on the clock.
Owatonna forced a second consecutive 3-and-out and triggered a 30-0 spurt in the second quarter when Beyer leaped forward and latched onto a 17-yard touchdown pass from Truelson just three plays into the stanza. Hall, Beyer and Havelka each found the end zone in a 3 minute, 34 second window before Henson capped the scoring in the first half with his second field half of the game.
Havelka found Williams on 3rd-and-long for the lone touchdown of the third quarter.
Logan Gautheir hit Brandon Skala from 6 yards out in the fourth quarter to help cement the final score.
As the top seed in the Section 1-5A tournament, Owatonna will not play until Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. against either No. 4-seeded John Marshall and No. 6 Austin.
By virtue of its 46-34 victory over Rochester Mayo, Rochester Century has earned the second seed and will play either the No. 3 Spartans or No. 6 Northfield.
OWATONNA 54, ROCHESTER JOHN MARSHALL 7
JM—Parker Navitsky 13 run (kick good), 9:19, 7-0
5 plays, 37 yards
O—Ethan Walter 80 pass from Brayden Truelson (Sam Henson kick), 7-7
3 plays, 83 yards
O—Henson 23 field goal, 1:45, 7-10
12 plays, 51 yards
O—Payton Beter 17 pass from Truelson (Henson kick), 10:40, 7-17
5 plays, 56 yards
O—Tanner Hall 12 run (Henson kick), 6:48, 7-24
6 plays, 72 yards
O—Beyer 34 interception return (Henson kick), 5:44, 7-30
O—Sol Havelka 1 run (Henson kick), 3:19, 7-38
1 play, 1 yard
O—Henson 34 field goal, 0:00, 7-40
8 plays, 5 yards
O—Matt Williams 55 pass from Havelka (Henson kick), 8:10, 7-47
3 plays, 57 yards
O—Brandon Skala 6 pass from Logan Gautheir (Lane Versteeg kick), 5:25, 7-54
11 plays, 53 yards
OWATONNA INDIVIDUAL STATS
RUSHING—Tanner Hall 16-86-1, Brayden Truelson 1-1, Sol Havelka 3-7-1, Jerez Autridge 7-22, Cole Earles 4-6, Logan Gauthier 1-3
PASSING—Truelson 11-15-183-2-0, Sol Havelka 1-3-55-1-0, Logan Gauthier 1-1-6-1-0
RECEIVING—Matt Williams 2-63-1, Ethan Walter 4-110-1, Payton Beyer 4-51-1, Tanner Hall 1-3, Isaac Oppegard 1-11, Brandon Skala 1-6-1