After a topsy-turvy 2020 season that showcased COVID-19 interruptions, standout performances and ultimately an unfulfilling finish to the season, this fall represents a sense of a return to normalcy for the Kenyon-Wanamingo football team.
This season, however, does bring a shift in competition, with the Knights moving down from Section 1AA to Section 1A.Kenyon-Wanamingo shares a section with Bethlehem Academy, Randolph and Fillmore Central, who finished a collective 0-3 against the Knights last season.
That new postseason scenery is also accompanied by some fresh Mid-Southeast District teams arriving on the regular-season schedule. The two losses in 2020 for Kenyon-Wanamingo — Triton and Goodhue — now move away from the Knights in the regular season and playoffs.
What awaits Kenyon-Wanamingo, however, is no walk in the park and the return of a handful of teams it hasn’t played in quite some time. Listed below is a game-by-game glance at each of the eight regular-season contests for this fall.
Sept. 3 — at NRHEG, 7 p.m.
To start the season, Kenyon-Wanamingo is set to battle a Class AA team and former Section 2AA foe in New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva.
The Panthers finished 2-2 last season, as their 2020 season was also turned upside down by COVID-19 induced cancellations and postponements.
NRHEG’s starting quarterback, Kordell Schlaak, has graduated, but otherwise the team maintains a decent amount of production last season. Andrew Phillips led the Panthers in rushing as a sophomore with 167 yards on 34 attempts with three touchdowns.
Jack Olson and Bo Budach are both entering their senior seasons after leading NRHEG in receiving, with Olson hauling in nine receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown, and Budach catching six passes for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Clay Stenzel led the defense with 33 solo tackles last year as a junior.
Kenyon-Wanamingo and NRHEG last played in 2016, when the Panthers topped the Knights 21-12 in the Section 2AA semifinals.
Sept. 10 — vs. Winona Cotter, 7 p.m.
Another game, another former Class AA opponent. Winona Cotter is staying up in Section 1AA for the next two seasons, but it’s remaining on the schedule this fall for Kenyon-Wanamingo.
Last year, the Ramblers finished 1-4 with losses against Bethlehem Academy, Rushford-Peterson, Fillmore Central and Hayfield, with the one win a 12-0 triumph against St. James Area.
That victory against St. James was the first for Winona Cotter since a 59-18 victory against Southland on Oct. 13, 2017. It’s been a couple lean seasons since, however, with a combined 0-18 record in 2018 and 2019, which included a pair of forfeits in 2019.
These two teams last played in 2019, when Kenyon-Wanamingo raced to a 53-0 victory in the second game of the season.
Sept. 17 — at Rushford-Peterson, 7 p.m.
It doesn’t take much imagination to produce a 2020 season that’s much more impressive than Rushford-Peterson’s real life 2-3 record. The Trojans started the season with a pair of two-score defeats against Section 1A finalists Blooming Prairie and Randolph.
After a 33-20 victory against Fillmore Central, Rushford-Peterson dropped a 26-20 overtime game at Goodhue before closing its abbreviated campaign with a 58-12 trouncing of Winona Cotter.
The Trojans are led offensively by dual-threat quarterback Malachi Bunke, who’s back this season for his senior campaign. In 2019, Bunke started at quarterback as a sophomore and led Rushford-Peterson to a 7-3 record and a trip to the Section 1A semifinal.
The Trojans and Knights have not played each other since at least 2002 season, which is as far back as the records go on minnesota-scores.net.
Sept. 24 — vs. Hayfield, 7 p.m.
The Hayfield boys had just about as good of a 2020-21 season as one could imagine, with the Vikings claiming Class A state titles in boys basketball and baseball. That success did not translate Friday nights in the fall, however, as Hayfield posted just a 1-4 record in football last season.
That includes a loss against River Ridge (Wisconsin), as well as defeats to Fillmore Central, Randolph and Bethlehem Academy.
Ethan Pack started at quarterback as a sophomore last year for the Vikings, and finished with a 56.6 completion percentage with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. Two of his three leading receivers from last season have graduated, however, with only Isaac Mati set to return this season. As a sophomore, he led the Vikings in every receiving category with 24 receptions for 365 yards and six touchdowns.
Senior Karver Heydt also returns in the offensive backfield after he led Hayfield with 168 yards on 47 carries in four games.
The Vikings and Knights last tangled in 2012, when Hayfield claimed a 33-31 victory.
Oct. 1 — at Bethlehem Academy, 7 p.m.
The Cardinals ended up with one of the more challenging schedules in 2020, with losses against Section 1A semifinalists Randolph and Goodhue, plus defeats against Class AA teams Kenyon-Wanamingo and Medford.
Now, of course, the Cardinals and Knights both share a section with both moving into Section 1A this season alongside Randolph, although Goodhue is departing.
In last season’s matchup between Kenyon-Wanamingo and Bethlehem Academy, the Knights held the Cardinals to only 108 yards of total offense in a 20-7 victory. Eighty-nine of those yards were gained on the ground by Brady Strodtman, who’s back for his senior season this fall.
Last season, Strodtman accounted for 1,090 of Bethlehem Academy’s 1,804 yards from his position at running back.
Oct. 8 — vs. Fillmore Central, 7 p.m.
Fillmore Central is the second of three holdovers from Kenyon-Wanamingo’s 2020 slate, with the Knights claiming a 28-0 victory last fall. That was one of four losses last season for the Falcons, who picked up their two wins against Winona Cotter and Hayfield.
Last season’s starting quarterback, Zach Haugerud, and Fillmore Central’s leading rusher and receiver, Carson Kiehne, have both graduated, leaving a mountain of questions on the offensive side of the ball entering the 2021 season.
Oct. 15 — vs. Randolph, 7 p.m.
Randolph has put together one of the more impressive three-year stretches in the Mid-Southeast District with three straight section final appearances. The first came in Section 2A during the 2018 season, when the Rockets lost 42-20 against United South Central after playing nine-man football in the regular season.
The past two years, Randolph had advanced to the Section 1A final, where it’s fallen both years to superpower Blooming Prairie, which has departed for Section 1AA this season. That creates a power grab in Section 1A between the top incumbent, Randolph, and the newcomers, which includes Kenyon-Wanamingo.
Last season, the Knights downed the Rockets with a 37-0 victory. Randolph beat Bethlehem Academy, Rushford-Peterson and Hayfield in the regular season last year before upsetting Goodhue to advance to the Section 1A championship. For the first time since that 2018 season, the Rockets will not need to replace a starting quarterback this fall, as Jacob Weckop returns after a junior season in which he complete 43.5% of his passes, and threw seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
He’s also their top returning rusher, after Kaven Blonigen, Mack Swanson and Brandon Gerster all graduated last season. Blonigen also led Randolph in receiving, making junior Tyson Cooreman the top returning receiving option after he caught 12 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore.
Oct. 20 — at Wabasha-Kellogg, 7 p.m.
Wabasha-Kellogg is slated to return to the field this fall after its entire 2020 season was wiped away due to COVID-19.
The last time the Falcons played, they finished 1-8 in 2019, with the one victory coming against Winona Cotter. In terms of returning experience, there’s not much to speak of for Wabasha-Kellogg because of the lost 2020 season.
Kenyon-Wanamingo and Wabasha-Kellogg have not played each other since at least 2004, which is as far back as records go on minnesota-scores.net.