The countdown to kickoff is just a month away.
The playoffs are a few months out, but it’s not too early to take a glimpse out how the section race could shake out.
Kenyon-Wanamingo remains in Section 1AA. The section keeps the same seven teams from last year while adding in Dover-Eyota, which drops down from AAA.
Read on for a quick breakdown of each team heading into the fall.
It’s Caledonia’s world and the rest of Minnesota Class AA has been living in it. The Warriors capped a perfect 13-0 season in 2018 by winning their fourth straight state title. They’re up to 54 straight wins with the last coming in the 2014 state semifinal against BOLD. The streak is 63 in the regular season. Cal is 98-2 in its last 100 games. It’s been over 1,500 days since the last loss. Stats like these can go on for days.
Cal graduated current Minnesota Gopher running back Nick McCabe from last year’s squad. The Warriors lost 13 seniors total. Quarterback Noah King is back for his senior year and has good genes as older brother, Owen, was a standout QB and basketball player. The Warriors are the favorites to go back to state, but they will have a tougher schedule this season with some AAA foes like Red Wing and state power Rochester Lourdes are in the mix. Longtime coach Carl Fruechte is back on the sidelines.
The Gophers went 8-3 last year with two losses coming to Caledonia and the other to then-Class AAA Dover-Eyota. Chatfield was one of just two teams to hold Cal to 20 or fewer points in a 20-0 loss. The Gophers kept games close last year, averaging 21.4 points and allowing 13.6. This program has been above .500 in all but one year this decade and won a state title in 2013.
Defending section runner up Chatfield was more of a run-oriented team last year, but will have to replace its top two rushers and some of what was a veteran line. Quarterback Reid Johnson is back as a junior. Jeff Johnson enters his 14th season as head coach.
The Fighting Saints finished at No. 12 in the QRF and had a 6-3 record. They were upset in one of the state’s more high scoring games of the season in round one of the playoffs, 56-44 vs. Triton. St. Charles started the year 6-0 with all but one win coming by multiple touchdowns. The other two losses were defensible as they came at the hands of Chatfield and Caledonia. Six wins is the program’s most in over a decade.
The Saints graduated 13 seniors. Leading rusher Logan Wendt returns to a team that heavily skewed toward the run. That might make the graduation of starting quarterback Mark Buringa more palatable. There will be some new bodies to plug in the line for a team seeking its third straight winning season. Its 33 points a game were second most in the section in 2018. Matt Reinhardt enters his fourth season as head coach. He’s the son of former St. Charles coach, Jim Reinhardt.
The Cardinals finished just 4-6 but could have easily been 6-4. They lost close to a tough Chatfield team and in total were 1-3 in one-score games. L-A was not a welcome host for Kenyon-Wanamingo as it knocked off K-W in the section playoffs for the second year in a row. Caledonia beat L-A in the section semis.
The Cards were a veteran laden team in 2018 with 20 seniors. They’ll be new at quarterback as Marcus Weaver, who was 12-for-16 with three touchdowns against K-W, is out. L-A will spread the ball out on the ground and in the air. Big tight end target Mitch Bonow is back. Evan Daley rushed for over 500 yards and is back as a senior. Senior Noah Herber will lead on defense and joined Bonow on the all-district team. L-A has not had high underclass numbers in recent years, so it’ll remain to be seen if it can win four-plus games in every year this decade. Head coach Brent Olson returns. L-A will come to Kenyon Sept. 13.
Last year was an uphill battle for the Knights as they were on the road for all nine games as their home field was renovated. They can return to play in Kenyon in 2019, which comes at a good time considering the holes K-W will have to fill.
It graduated its bell cow, Nate Bauer, who had 1,261 rushing yards and was an all-district performer. K-W’s top lineman, Kaya Lindell, also departs, so the Knights will hope for a leap from senior quarterback and returning starter Tate Erlandson. K-W could look to put it in the air more after only 63 pass attempts in 2018.
Teams may overlook the Knights after a 2-7 campaign, but they were in almost every game last season with two one-point losses and another by six.
Like Goodhue, K-W has some wrestling strength that can translate. Junior Tyler Craig is next in line to get the lion’s share of carries while classmate and mat mate Carter Quam is coming off an all-district honorable mention season on the lines.
This is the only team in the section K-W regularly sees in other sports during the year. The Triton Cobras were proof positive in the MSHSL allowing all teams into the postseason. They turned around a 1-7 regular season, a season where they started 0-6 and did not score more than 24 points in a game, to upset No. 3 seed St. Charles 56-44 in the section playoff opener.
Mark Ellingson is in his second year leading the program following the retirement of 31-year head coach Don Henderson. He’ll lose 16 seniors who were a part of Triton’s 9-2 season in 2017. Multi-talented running back Drew Kelly graduated, but junior starting quarterback Mason Barker has two more years to gel. The offense is run-oriented and the defense makes up for a lack of size with speed and aggresiveness.
The good news for Cotter? The Ramblers graduated a section-low six seniors. The bad news? They own the smallest roster in the section. Winona was stretched thin last year playing a tough schedule. The Ramblers scored more than two touchdowns in one game en route to an 0-9 season.
Gone is top running back/cornerback Austin Hicks. Sophomore Tate Gilbertson is back for another year and will try to lift the offense past 7.6 points per game last year. The Ramblers have a unique homefield advantage playing their games at Winona State University. Head coach Seth Haun enters his sixth full season at the helm. K-W will head to Cotter Sept. 6.