Stewartville grateful for more football as it rides into state semis

Nov. 16—STEWARTVILLE — Another week together.

That, above all, is what Stewartville football coach Garrett Mueller says his team appreciates most about this latest opportunity.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, the unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Tigers line up again, this time indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium, taking on Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in the Class 3A state semifinals.

It's been that kind of season. A winning one, but even more than that a together one for this Stewartville team.

"We are just fortunate to have earned another week together," Mueller said. "Everyone is all smiles and excited to keep doing this. We're coming up to some finality to it now, regardless of the outcome Saturday. We're getting near the end, but we appreciate having this next opportunity."

That togetherness, combined with some rich talent, have made it a season of magic for Stewartville, whose climb to the state semifinals has been a gradual one. Two seasons ago, it was stunned in the section semis by Byron. Last year it made it to the state quarterfinals, losing to Hutchinson.

And now it has climbed to the indoors portion of the state event, and is the favored team as it takes on the fifth-ranked and 10-1 Rebels.

Stewartville, which has outscored its foes by an average of 43-5 and owns the top defense in Class 3A, is coming off a dominant 22-0 victory against Waseca in the quarterfinals. D-G-F, a 33-6 quarterfinal winner against Albany, has outscored its opponents by an average of 28-7. Its only loss was to begin the season, 14-7 to the top-ranked team in Class 2A, Barnesville.

Mueller was thrilled with what he saw from his team against Waseca, which he calls the best competition his team has seen all season.

"I was so impressed with our performance in all three phases (offense, defense, special teams)," Mueller said. "Waseca is an outstanding football team. To come out and compete the way we did was outstanding. Our defense playing the way it is gives us a chance to beat anyone."

Stewartville and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton are a contrast in offensive styles. The Tigers are a diverse operation, led by star quarterback Ayden Helder. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior, a nominee for the 2023 Minnesota Mr. Football Award, has had a spectacular season, passing for 2,083 yards on a sizzling 71% accuracy, a school-record tying 38 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. Stewartville also has a potent running game, with 2,300 yards rushing yards this season.

Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, which lost in the state title game last year, doesn't bother much with the pass. That's because it hasn't needed to. Its ground game butchers teams.

"They control the time of possession and grind out yards," Mueller said. "They keep the ball away from the opposing offense. They've got three really good running backs and their quarterback is a tough kid. Up front, they've got big, physical dudes. With the type of offense they run, we're going to be limited in our possessions. So, we're going to have to be really efficient with the opportunities we get. We're going to have to protect the football and finish in the end zone."

Defensively, the Tigers intend to just keep doing what they've been doing. That is, allowing opposing offenses almost nothing. Led by a line that features star defensive ends Blake Turner and Graysen Schneider, Stewartville has been able to pinch off every offense it's faced.