Monday, January 17, 2022

High School Football: Mankato West tops Mahtomedi for 5A title

Mahtomedi statically held up with Mankato West for the Class 5A state title match at US Bank Stadium on Saturday.

But you have to be close to perfect to beat a team of Scarlett’s stature.

And the Zephyrs lost 24-10 to Mankato West in the Class 5A state championship game at US Bank Stadium on Saturday.

Mahtomedi’s coach Dave Muetzel said of the Scarlets, “They had no weaknesses.” “But I’ll tell you, I couldn’t be more proud of the effort that (my team) put in and we brought to the table. All you can ask of anyone is that they gave everything they had. ”

The Zephyrs forced Mankato West to three-and-out in the opening series of the game, forcing Scarlett to punt. But Mahtomedi thwarted the ensuing punt return, and Mankato West’s Ryan Haley scored for a touchdown from 34 yards to give Mankato West a 7–0 lead.

“Good players know how to find the ball. Ryan is a great football player, he is always around the ball. He always plays, and because of that, he is always in the right place,” said Mankato West coach JJ Helgate. “Sometimes you have to get used to it, sometimes it’s something you can’t teach. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that really good football players are always in the right place. But there are.”

Muetzel said it was a play, and while you want to get off to a better start, it certainly doesn’t define the game. Still, the Scarlets (14-0) are not a team you want to leave early. Scoring is a big challenge at Mankato West, who have a fear of seven. No one has had much success against Scarlett this season.

Knowing this, Mahtomedi (11-3) flew into the air. Charlie Brandt threw 31 times, with senior Ethan Loss serving as a consistent target. The defeat dropped seven grabs for 130 yards and was the driving force behind Mahtomedi’s offensive success. He also suspected that he had returned to the Mankato West region. The amount of loss a football player does in an 80-minute match is the same on Saturday.

“Lots of energy (burned), but in the last game of the season, you have to put it out there,” Los said. “I knew I had to give 100 percent throughout the game.”

Mahtomedi’s success was fleeting on Saturday, as Mankato West made it difficult to finish even when Zephyrs made a relentless drive.

In addition to its one touchdown drive, capped by a Jordan Hull run, Mahtomedi dropped three times inside the Mankato West 30-yard line, but those drives resulted in a total of three points.

Still, that touchdown from Hull closed the gap 14-10 at the start of the third frame and gave new life to the Zephyrs.

“It gave us that spark,” Muetzel said. “It was a dog fight. We were definitely feeling well at the time.”

The Zephyrs’ defense was feeling good for most of the game. Mahtomedi forced four turnovers and matched the physicality of Mankato West.

But Manakato West made enough offensive plays to maintain the advantage.

“This game, we had to earn it,” Helgate said. “That was a good football team. They pushed us.”

Alexander Deitbeiner threw a pair of touchdown passes, one to Brady Haugham in the first half, and another to Gibson Blackstad in the fourth and -2 for a 13-yard touchdown. This was Blackstad’s first catch of the season.

Mankato West tight end Gibson Blackstad (87) drives a short pass into the end zone for a touchdown against Mahtomedi in the third quarter. (John Otte / Pioneer Press)

Thomas Academy in the state quarterfinals, Mankato West played a similar game, slipping the tight end to the back. But that play went to Haugam. This time, it went to Blackstead, because Scarlett knew Mahtomedi wouldn’t pay that much attention to her.

“I didn’t try to overthrow it,” Gibson said. “Detbenner made a good throw, I caught it, touchdown.”

Mankato West’s championship was the culmination of two years of work. Scarlett didn’t even lose last season. They came this season with high expectations, and backed them with effort. Gibson concluded the team’s story on Saturday with a “happy ending.”

Heglett recalled the COVID-19 restrictions that forced Mankato West to raise him in the weight room with just nine children at once.

That means some players, including Haley, were in the weight room at 4:45 a.m. to start the day and give all waves of nine enough time to get their lift.

“Honestly, it wasn’t bad, because I knew what we were working for,” Haley said. “Obviously it was quick, but I knew the end result would be worth it.”

Hull said it was “fun” facing a team of Mankato West’s physicality and ability. He tasted the challenge. Mahtomedi earned the opportunity to fight the best players in the state, and stacks up quite well.

“That kind of team, who worked really hard, turned out to be good and had such a solid team around, I’m glad that kind of team beat us,” Hull said. “They made us work hard. … Fun to play with a physical team of that size. It definitely tests our abilities and shows our weaknesses and what can be done better.

“Unfortunately, this is the last game we get to play.”

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