Oct. 31—COLD SPRING — It's the Section 6AAA championship, so it's little surprise that the Albany and
football teams are involved.
The Huskies and Wildcats seem to make it an annual affair.
They'll play at 7 p.m. Friday at Rocori High School's Blattner Stadium. At stake is a state playoff berth. That'd be a return trip for the top-seeded Wildcats (6-3), who are defending state Class AAA champions. Albany (7-2) seeks its first state berth since 2015.
"They're a heck of a squad,"
head coach Mike Ellingson said of the Wildcats. "It's kind of fun to be in a traditional rivalry like that.
"Both teams kind of enjoy it. Both teams respect all of it."
The two have played every year since not facing each other in 2014, with Albany holding a 7-6 lead in games won. NLS won 48-20 on Aug. 31 this year and has won the last two playoff games against the Huskies, 20-14 in 2022 and 14-12 in '21.
Albany beat NLS 8-0 in the regular season in 2020 and 28-0 in the 2019 playoffs.
NLS previously won three straight, winning the playoff game in '18, 27-22, then 27-0 in the '18 regular season and 28-20 in the playoffs in '17.
Albany won five straight prior to that, winning 38-36 in the regular season in '17, 42-26 in the regular season in '16 and 32-7 in the '16 playoffs. The Huskies won 34-6 in '15 in the regular season and 40-6 in the '15 playoffs.
"Albany is playing some real good football right now," NLS head coach Chad Gustafson said. "They've had a really good year.
"They pretty much ran the table since they played us.
"They've got a real good team and a real good tradition with a real good coach. ... They don't beat themselves. We know we have to play a clean game."
The Huskies have a big-two running track led by Adam Dennis, who has 874 yards and 14 touchdowns on 107 carries, an 8.2 yards-per-carry average. Joseph Schmitt is the other backfield threat. He has 696 yards rushing with seven TDs on 104 carries, a 6.7 average.
Ellingson agreed his team has made great strides since that season-opening loss to the Wildcats.
"I think our team has gotten some seasoning," Ellingson said. "I think at lot of our kids were starting their first varsity game the last time.
"It was a humbling experience to have that first half go like it did at New London."
Albany, long a ground-oriented option team, has successfully mixed a passing game into its repertoire. Andrew Olson has completed 53 of 104 passes for 778 yards and 11 TDs. He has thrown five interceptions. His favorite target is Jack Rieland, who had 16 receptions for 277 yards, a 17.3 average, with four TDs.
The Huskies also have Ethan Meyer, who has eight catches for 186 yards, a 23.2 average, with four TDs. Meyer missed the first NLS game.
"In their first 40 years of football, they probably didn't throw 100 passes," Gustafson said. "They have a really nice passing offense and two really good backs."
NLS is led by running back Mason Delzer, tight end Grant Paffrath and quarterback Blake Schultz on offense. Delzer, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, is in his third year as a starter. All three were key cogs in the Wildcats' state championship season in 2022.
"I'm sure New London is excited to see us again," Ellingson said. "They're obviously pretty big up front. They have a tremendous back in Delzer. He does some amazing things. You've got a kid there who has what, maybe 3,000 career yards? He's special."
Both coaches believe it'll be close Friday.
"I think it'll go down to the fourth quarter," Gustafson said. "That's kind of how it's been over the years."