Nov. 10—STEWARTVILLE — Tegan Malone intercepted three passes in last Friday's Section 1, Class 3A football championship game.
Before the Stewartville senior could even take a deep breath after a couple of the Tigers' big plays, he looked up to see teammate Carter Miller running for the end zone.
"He's super fast," Malone said of his classmate Miller, who has emerged as a game-breaking running threat for the No. 1-ranked Tigers. "You don't want to let him get out in the open because he'll make some big plays. He's another guy who is a really big part of the team and who everybody loves being around."
Thanks in large part to Miller's play in last week's section championship game, Miller and his teammates have been able to spend more time together on the practice field this week — and, they hope, for a couple more weeks to come. They open play in the Class 3A state tournament at 7 p.m. Saturday against Waseca at Hastings High School.
"Our minds aren't set on just going to state," Malone said about the Tigers' second straight trip to a state tournament. "We want more than just making it there."
Through the first 10 games of the season, Miller carried the ball a total of 48 times, but he turned those carries into 482 yards and 8 touchdowns.
He received his biggest workload of the season last week against rival Rochester Lourdes, in a section championship game that the Tigers pulled away to win 34-7. Behind an offensive line that took control of the game early — and allowed Stewartville to not have to use its excellent passing game — Miller kept up his 10 yards-per-carry average, running 17 times for 174 yards and three touchdowns (two coming on the heels of interceptions by Malone).
A lot of Miller's production in the run game has come due to a shift in position and expectations this fall, Tigers coach Garrett Mueller said.
"Carter has really grown as our 'superback' this year," Mueller said. "Up until this year he was our H-back, a mix of some run-game stuff, but more of a receiver in our offense. This year we shifted him to that superback role and he's really grown as the season's gone on."
Miller is still an integral part of the Tigers' passing game. Quarterback Ayden Helder has mastered the art of spreading the ball around to a half-dozen weapons. Helder has passed for 1,897 yards and 35 touchdowns, with just one interception. Miller has caught 20 of Helder's 121 completions, for 352 yards and 8 touchdowns.
In total, Miller has touched the ball 85 times for 1,008 yards this fall, and has reached the end zone 19 times.
The Tigers' big and bruising offensive line — tackles Caleb Jannsen and Ridge Hatz, guards Jamisen Hart and Lincoln Dube, and center Anthony Nelson — have paved the way for Miller's 1,000-yard season (he has 65 rushing attempts for 656 yards and 11 rushing TDs).
"He went through some struggles early on, understanding, reading gaps and where to run and things like that," Mueller said of Miller. "As the season has progressed, we've really seen him start to come on. Our offensive line has really improved, too. We have four new starters up there from last year. Those guys continue to improve and watching those guys grow collectively as a unit over the season ... (Miller) doesn't need much space, once he gets out in the open field, he's a special athlete and fun to watch."
Odds are, if the Tigers are to have success against Waseca and advance to the state semifinals, Miller will play a key role — on one or both sides of the ball.
"He's a guy who we look to get the ball in his hands," Mueller said. "When you talk about big games like (the section championship game), it's about players and not plays. We're looking for opportunities to get him the ball as much as we can."