A team cannot fully understand its limits until it actually comes time to face them head on.
For the top-ranked Owatonna football team, this moment came with 11 minutes, 16 seconds remaining in the second half after Mankato West’s Max Goertzen slipped past the Huskies’ secondary and hauled-in a 38-yard dart from Jack Foster.
After the extra point slammed into Carter DeBus’ giant paw and spun harmlessly to the grass, the No. 8-ranked Scarlets had themselves a 10-point lead. The deficit was the largest Owatonna had seen since the 2016 season and the uneasy feeling of getting punched in the gut wasn’t something the team had grown accustomed to in its recent string of largely overwhelming regular season performances in the last couple of years.
The Huskies were undoubtedly down, but if there’s anything that this program has shown under head coach Jeff Williams, they are never out.
Buoyed by a suddenly air-tight defense, riding the legs of its new star running back and receiving key contributions from a number of players, Owatonna scored 14 unanswered points in the game’s final 10 minutes, 22 seconds and earned a gritty, and equally satisfying, victory on its home field, 24-20.
“It feels like we are making everyone proud with this win,” said Owatonna senior defensive lineman, Ethan Rohman. “We were waiting for — I don’t want to say a worthy opponent — but someone to push us, and (West) came in and gave us all they had and we gave all we had and we just came out on top.”
In a game full of heroes, it was Tanner Hall who wore the cape last, scoring both of his touchdowns and accounting for 50 of his 168 total rushing yards in the fourth quarter. After busting into the end zone to help draw the Huskies within 20-17 early in the fourth quarter, the shifty 5-foot-8 junior found a crease on the right side of the line and scored the game-winning TD with just 1:09 on the clock. Sam Henson’s extra point gave the Huskies (6-0 overall, 5-0 Red Division) a 24-20 lead and cemented the final score.
Mankato West (4-2, 4-2) got the ball back with roughly a minute remaining after Hall’s second touchdown and didn’t move an inch as Foster misfired on four consecutive passes and the Scarlets turned the ball over on downs with just 40 seconds on the clock.
Foster — a strong-armed, 6-foot-5 future Division I quarterback at Brown University in Rhode Island — completed 19 of 42 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns, but after completing 7 of 8 passes in the first quarter, connected on just 12 of 35 (34%) throws the remainder of the game, was sacked twice and hurried into errant throws on a number of occasions. He also finished with less than 10 yards on five designed runs and negative-7 yards counting the sacks.
“In the first half, it didn’t feel like we could get off the field very effectively, at least early,” Jeff Williams said. “We did a much better job of getting off the field as the game moved along. We had some big sacks to push them back to make it second and long, third and long and we just stepped up. The last two possessions, our defensive backs just locked down. There was just nobody springing free. They really stepped up in the fourth quarter.
Brayden Truelson connected on a trio of passes for a combined 75 yards in the fourth quarter alone, the biggest of which went to Payton Beyer and spanned 27 yards on a spectacular throw-and-catch down the left sideline to set up the Huskies just inside the red zone with 2:30 on the clock.
Truelson finished 9-for-17 for 166 yards and one touchdown, finding Matt Williams from 10 yards out on the game’s opening possession to help give the Huskies an early 7-0 advantage.
Mankato West answered on the ensuing possession and marched 80 yards on 11 plays on its only offensive series of the stanza. Foster floated a 35-yard pass to Spencer Spaude with 3:43 on the clock to draw the Scarlets within a single point at 7-6.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Spaude hauled-in a game-high 12 passes for 130 yards, most of which came on short to intermediate routes against the Huskies’ man-to-man coverage. In fact, all-but two of Foster’s completions the entire game were of the quick-release, pitch-and-catch variety. With Owatonna leading 10-6 early in the fourth quarter, Mekhi Collins snatched short pass on a hitch route, slipped an Owatonna defender and accelerated 58 yards into the end zone to give the Scarlets their first lead of the game.
“They were very patient on their hitch routes, and had we not missed a tackle on their touchdown in the third quarter, that portion of our game plan worked,” Williams said. “We wanted to make them dink and dunk down the field and be possession receivers and if you make two or three mistakes in a row, well, then you’re punting.”
Collins’ long touchdown was just the opening salvo of what was a disastrous 12-minutes stretch for the Huskies. Owatonna’s next three possessions ended in a punt, a turnover on downs and an interception and West extended its lead to 20-10 when Goertzen burned pass the final layer of the Owatonna defense to score the Scarlets’ final touchdown on the third play of the fourth quarter.
Seykora and DeBus each registered sacks while Keenan Young batted away a pair of passes and finished with six tackles. Young also returned a kick 60 yards to the West 25-yard line early in the fourth quarter to set up Hall’s first touchdown. Isaac Gefre led the team with 10 stops.
Aside from grabbing his third touchdown of the season, Williams made a number of huge catches for the Huskies and finished with a team-high seven receptions for 60 yards. Beyer continued his monstrous and highlight-filled second half to the season and snatched another two passes for 73 yards. He also helped lock down the Scarlets’ No. 2 receiver, Jon Sikel, holding the senior to four grabs for 14 yards. Sikel came into the game averaging a team-best 79 yards-per-game.
Rochester Century transfer, Owen Johnson, was held to 14 yards on three carries.
On a drive that included a 20-yard burst from Hall and a 40-yard reception from Beyer, Sam Henson drilled a 34-yard field goal with plenty of leg to hand Owatonna a 10-6 lead with 3:41 left before halftime. Henson is now 2-for-2 on field goals and is perfect on extra points for the season.
With Rochester Century losing to New Prague, Owatonna has clinched sole possession of the Big Southeast District Red Division championship.
With the victory, Williams ties long-time Owatonna coach Jerry Peterson for most career wins with 179. Since taking over in 1996, Williams has accumulated an impressive 179-71 overall record.
Williams, who already owns the school’s record for career winning percentage (.716), will have a chance to surpass Peterson on Friday at home against Mankato East.
OWATONNA 24, MANKATO WEST 20
O—Matt Williams 10 pass from Brayden Truelson (Sam Henson kick), 7:59, 7-0
Drive summary: 9 plays, 71 yards
MW—Spencer Spaude 35 pass from Jack Foster (kick fail), 3:43, 7-6
Drive summary: 11 plays, 80 yards
O—Henson 32 field goal, 3:41, 10-6
Drive summary: 11 plays, 81 yards
MW—Mekhi Collins 58 pass from Foster (pass good), 11:05, 10-14
Drive summary: 2 plays, 64 yards
MW— Max Goertzen 39 pass from Foster (kick blocked), 11:16, 10-20
Drive summary: 2 plays, 40 yards
O—Tanner Hall 4 run (Henson kick), 10:22, 17-20
Drive summary: 2 plays, 25 yards
O—Hall 10 run (Henson kick)
Drive summary: 4 plays, 53 yards
OWATONNA INDIVIDUAL STATS
RUSHING—Sol Havelka 6-22, Brayden Truelson 3-16, Tanner Hall 33-168-2
PASSING—Sol Havelka 1-2-8-0-0, Brayden Truelson 9-17-166-1-1
RECEIVING—Matt Williams 7-60-1, Isaac Oppegard 1-41, Payton Beyer 2-73
TACKLES—Matt Williams 1, Isaac Oppegard 3, Payton Beyer 3, Carson DeKam 4, Keenan Young 6, Mayy Seykora 4 (1 sack), Tanner Hall 1, Hunter Menden 3, Isaac Gefre 10, Carter DeBus 2 (1 sack), Brandon Skala 2, Josh O’Daffer 2