Aug. 29—(Editor's note: This article is part of the 2023 Pigskin Preview, which will appear in the Saturday, Sept. 2, Post Bulletin print edition. A full list of articles that will appear on PostBulletin.com this week is at the bottom of this article.)
A Cannon Falls team that averaged 47.8 points per game, won three section playoff games by an average of 57-15 (including a 50-6 win against Plainview-Elgin-Millville in the section final) and went 10-2 overall (those losses by a combined six points) last season has moved out of Section 1, Class 3A.
However, that is as much a groan as it is a collective sigh of relief coming from other coaches in Section 1, 3A.
Somehow, though the Bombers are no longer part of it, the section may have gotten tougher. That's because last year's Section 1, Class 4A champion, the speedy and high-powered Stewartville Tigers, have taken the Bombers' place.
Stewartville went 10-1 a year ago, its lone loss at the hands of fellow state power Hutchinson in the Class 4A state quarterfinals. The Tigers, who are 18-2 over the past two seasons, hope to sustain that success in Class 3A this season.
They certainly have the athletes to be considered among the favorites in the section. Five seniors headline that group: OL/LB Caleb Jannsen (first team All-District, first team All-Section, second on team in tackles); QB Ayden Helder (first team All-District and All-Section, 1,556 yards passing, 24 TDs, 70% completions); RB/DB Carter Miller (first team All-District and All-Section; 20 tackles, 19 receptions, 376 yards, 2 TDs); WR/LB Henry Tschetter (20 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 21 rec., 258 yards, 2 TDs); and OL/DL Jamie Hart (All-District H.M., 23 tackles, 4.5 tackles for losses, 1 sack).
Junior WR/DB Parker Wangen (17 tackles, 3 int., 16 rec., 5 TDs) will also be a tough matchup on both sides of the ball. And classmate Graysen Schneider, a RB/DE, is among the best all-around players in this part of the state. The 6-3, 235-pounder had 37 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 6 sacks, a fumble recovery and a defensive TD last season as just a sophomore.
Among the new players expected to fill key roles are seniors Tegan Malone (WR), Drew Jelinek (DE/TE) and Blake Turner (DE/TE), and juniors Justice Deno (LB), Dylan Hoot (RB/WR/S), Jayce Klug (S/WR) and Ridge Hatz (OL/DL).
"We believe we are one of the better teams in the area in our classification and have high expectations for the season," head coach Garrett Mueller said. "We return a lot of talent and experience from our 2022 state quarterfinal team along with some outstanding new faces adding to the varsity program."
The Lancers had a turnaround season in 2022, going 5-5, with two of their losses coming by less than a touchdown. That, after they had gone 0-9 in the past two seasons in which they fielded a team.
But the hiring of head coach Terry Donovan helped spark the turnaround. The long-time Kasson-Mantorville assistant coach has turned La Crescent into a football town again and the Lancers hope to build on that this season.
They'll again be led by Donovan's son, AJ, who will be a senior QB this season. The All-District and All-Section player had 1,975 passing yards and 25 TDs in 2022. Other seniors back as leaders include RB/LB Jaden George (All-District HM, All-Section HM, 349 rush yards, 5 TDs); G/DL Noah Gierok (All-Section HM) and RB/DE Carter Shay (returning starter). Four juniors are back who started last season: WR/LB Drew Todd, WR/CB Ethan Myhre, WR/DB Mayes Boyer and LB/Slot Leyton Johnson.
Among the newcomers expected to step in are WR/DB Parker Mcquinn, who missed last season with an injury, but should fill a key role this season, and WR/LB Brady Grupa, a senior who Donovan says is one of the best athletes at La Crescent-Hokah and "has a burning desire to win."
"I think we will be very athletic and have a lot of playmakers," Donovan said. "Our resilience will also be a strength as we have been tested and never quit. Defense looks to be our most improved spot this year as we have a bunch of returners."
The Tigers have big hopes of turning around their 3-6 record of a year ago — when they won two of their final three regular-season games — with a talented group of returning starters and letterwinners.
That group is highlighted by senior receiver Keegan Ryan, a 6-5, speedy wideout who can leap and is a matchup problem for opponents. Ryan had 49 catches for 768 yards and 9 TDs last season. He committed to Division I North Dakota this summer. He also had 63 total tackles as a defensive back.
Other top returners include seniors Jaden Shones (QB/DB, 1,228 passing yards, 11 TDs) and Karch Hegge (RB/DB, 65 total tackles), and junior WR/RB/DB Aaron Lou (3 rush TDs; 23 rec., 285 yards). All four of those returners were All-District in 2022.
Players expected to step into key roles this year include seniors Rylee Fick (WR/DB) and Gunnar Seydel (TE/LB), and junior linemen Greg Banazynski, Garrett Goihl, Dallas Hanson and Dom Hoffman, as well as juniors Josh Wohlers (WR/LB) and Braxton Berlin (WR/DB).
"I think this will likely be the biggest and strongest team that we've had since I've been at Lake City," veteran coach Trevor Narum said. "We could very well average about 250 pounds on our offensive and defensive lines. We return a lot of key players from last year's team that was young, but really improved from beginning to end of the season."
The Eagles, who went 7-2 and earned the No. 1 seed in the section last year, are eager to get rid of the sour taste of a narrow section semifinal loss to P-E-M that snapped a seven-game winning streak.
Lourdes returns some talented leaders who are hungry for another crack at the program's first trip to state since 2018.
They will be led by 2022 Southeast District Red Division Lineman of the Year Will Roth; big, athletic and talented tight end/defensive end Thatcher Bochmann and veteran lineman Collin Weinchenk. Senior QB Adam Sellner (691 yards, 7 TDs) is back, too, as well as sophomore RB Caleb Akinbolu, who led the district in rushing as a freshman at 6.1 yards per carry and 9 TDs.
Perhaps the thing that excites coach Mike Kesler the most is the 16 starters Lourdes returns. Running back Trevor Heindel will be back from an injury, and starters such as Eric Nelson, Mardoche Pierson and Nels Pierson will bring leadership to the team.
"Our experience and our O and D lines," Kesler said about this team's strengths. "We typically aren't that big, but this year we actually have some size and quickness up front."
Though the Panthers will look to replace their top offensive threat from a year ago, Sam Knox, they have a nucleus in place to have some success when they have the ball. Pine Island returns three strong offensive linemen who started in 2022: Nate Klusmann and fellow seniors Carter Sisell and Ben Pike. QB Garett Sperber is back, too, as well as a couple of his top targets, receivers Drew Sailer and Owen Harstad. Defensively, Gavin Twaddle stepped up as a leader last year and will be looked at to do so again as the Panthers will be without some key players due to injuries.
Twaddle will be joined in the backfield by Bentley Lujero and Nick Thein, and tight end Landon Lowrie is another offensive weapon to watch for.
Among the team's new faces expected to step in are linemen Collin Fogarty, Jamie Simpson and Will Radke, and linebacker Nathan Despins.
"Our overall team speed is up, something we need to take advantage of in a number of areas on the field," head coach Mitch Schultz said. "With a variety of players who can make plays, it will be important to spread the ball around to keep defenses off balance."
A new era in P-E-M football begins as Daren Wingert takes over as head coach for Kevin Lamb, who stepped down in order to watch his three sons play college football. The Bulldogs went 7-4 in 2022, knocking off top-seeded Lourdes to reach the section championship game, before falling to Cannon Falls.
P-E-M will be stout along the lines once again, led by 3-year starter Kadin Pries, who was the Southeast District Defensive Player of the Year last season, when he led all of southeastern Minnesota with more than 180 total tackles. Seniors Ryan Schroeder and Ashton Kisch, as well as junior Drew Rahman are back along both lines (Kisch has also been the team's punter the past two years).
Junior Alex Hinrichs returns at QB and defensive back. He started the last two games at QB last season, including guiding the Bulldogs on the winning touchdown drive against Lourdes in the section semifinals. Senior Isaac Foss is also battling for time at QB. Other top returners include juniors Nolan Welke (RB/LB), Logan Dittrich (RB/LB) and Aaron Martinez (RB/LB), who all started as sophomores.
PEM has depth in the offensive backfield, too, as Jace Schumacher, Welke, Dominic Loya, Parker Matti, Dittrich, Carson Rahman, Aidan Graner and Nolan Ford are all in the mix for carries.
"We have the most quality depth on the offensive and defensive lines this year," Wingert said. "We should be better at creating space for our ball carriers. Defensively, we have pretty good team speed but have inexperience at a lot of positions as well so hopefully those guys can improve as they get more experience."
After playing a schedule loaded with Class 4A and 5A teams in recent seasons, the Wingers are looking forward to playing a majority of their schedule against similar-sized Class 3A schools. They know that doesn't mean things will be easy, though, as La Crescent-Hokah, Lourdes, P-E-M and Stewartville are among the teams that await the Wingers.
"We are focused on one game at a time," second-year head coach Brent Stinson said. "We are in a new class size and looking forward to playing new opponents."
Red Wing has some talented returning players back to lead the way: senior WR/LB Konner Kelly (23 solo tackles, 37 total, 2 int., 13 receptions, 128 yards, 2 TDs), junior OL/DL Aiden Diaz, senior OL/DL Kole Stevenson and junior RB/DB Calen Beard.
At QB, senior Reid Hartmann and junior Adam Roe are competing for snaps, and the Wingers will use at least three players at running back, in addition to Beard: senior Oliver Jensen, soph. Isaac Wiles and junior Hunter Greeley.
Seniors Oliver Jensen (RB/OLB) and Jason Diaz (WR/DB), and juniors Brock Kajewski (TE/MLB) and Keegan Knutson (WR/S) will be looked at to fill key positions.
The Cougars are never an easy matchup with coach Darin Raasch at the helm, and that should be no different in 2023. Z-M is led by a trio of talented returners, including 3-year starters Jack Boraas (6-3, 325-pound center/DT) and Oliver Liffrig (6-1, 220, TE/LB), and second-year starter Evan Klindworth (6-0, 180, RB, 394 rush yards).
A couple of players have competed in fall practice for snaps at QB, senior Avery Crosby (6-1, 160), who missed last season with an injury, but started every game on the B-squad in 2021; and junior Taite Raasch (6-2, 180), who started all of last season on the Z-M B-squad.
Senior William Higley (5-11, 165) and junior Colby Dohrn (5-8, 145) are in the mix at running back, too.
Matt Klindworth, a 6-0, 180-pound senior middle linebacker, is expected to be a leader on defense this fall, after backing up Egan Ladewig in 2022, after missing most of 2021 with an injury.
Owen Hoefs (CB/WR), Ben Gunhus (6-3, 170, WR/S), Austin Jensch (S/WR), Tucker Buck (OL/DL) and Landon Flaaen (CB/WR) will also start at important positions.
"While we will have some inexperience at the skill positions, we will have more experience up front on offense," coach Raasch said.
(All games at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted)
Sept. 1 — Cannon Falls at Plainview-Elgin-Millville; Stewartville at Waseca; Caledonia at Zumbrota-Mazeppa; Chatfield at Pine Island; Lake City at St. Charles; Red Wing at La Crescent-Hokah; Lourdes at Dover-Eyota.
Sept. 8 — Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Lake City; Plainview-Elgin-Millville at Lourdes; Kasson-Mantorville at Stewartville; La Crescent-Hokah at Chatfield; Pine Island at Red Wing.
Sept. 15 — Pine Island at Cannon Falls; Dover-Eyota at La Crescent-Hokah; Lourdes at Lake City.
Sept. 16 — Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Stewartville (1 p.m.); Plainview-Elgin-Millville at Red Wing (4 p.m.).
Sept. 22 — Red Wing at Zumbrota-Mazeppa; Stewartville at Plainview-Elgin-Millville; Lake City at Pine Island; La Crescent-Hokah at Lourdes.
Sept. 29 — Lake City at Stewartville; Red Wing at Lourdes; Cannon Falls at La Crescent-Hokah; Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Chatfield.
Sept. 30 — Pine Island at Plainview-Elgin-Millville (1 p.m.).
Oct. 5 — La Crescent-Hokah at St. Charles.
Oct. 6 — Stewartville at Red Wing; Dover-Eyota at Lake City; Lourdes at Pine Island; Plainview-Elgin-Millville at Zumbrota-Mazeppa.
Oct. 12 — Red Wing at Lake City.
Oct. 13 — Stewartville at Pine Island; Zumbrota-Mazeppa at Lourdes; La Crescent-Hokah at Triton; Plainview-Elgin-Millville at Caledonia; St. Charles at Red Wing.
Oct. 18 — Lourdes at Stewartville; Lake City at Plainview-Elgin-Millville; Pine Island at Zumbrota-Mazeppa; Caledonia at La Crescent-Hokah.
SUNDAY, AUG. 27
—Plainview-Elgin-Millville's "hit man" is southeastern Minnesota's top tackler
—Column: The Pigskin Preview turns 50
—Why the chase for the Section 1, 9-Player championship could be wide open this fall
MONDAY, AUG. 28
—How and why the Winona State University coaching staff is prioritizing southeastern Minnesota as a recruiting hotbed
—Defending champ Fillmore Central is among the favorites in a loaded Section 1, Class 1A
—Who will challenge Chatfield in Section 1, Class 2A this season?
—Stewartville star will be a problem for opposing linemen
TUESDAY, AUG. 29
—Donovan family has led La Crescent-Hokah's quick turnaround
—Chicago native Martell Williams returned to RCTC this fall for one reason
—One powerhouse has moved out, another has moved into Section 1, Class 3A
—Is Section 1, Class 4A a three-horse race again?
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 30
—Section 1, Class 5A could be up for grabs
—The Post Bulletin names its "Dangerous Dozen" for the 2023 season
—College coaches have eyes on John Marshall's Ladu brothers
THURSDAY, AUG. 31
—John Marshall graduate Deontae Veney is making a "big" impact at Minnesota State University, Mankato
—Mayo's Holcomb a rare five-year varsity player — and a rare athlete
—Rochester Mayo to tackle the state's biggest class, moving up to Section 3, Class 6A
FRIDAY, SEPT. 1
—Why are teams schedules so different this fall? We find out why local teams will face unfamiliar foes
—Kingsland's dynamic backfield duo has Knights dreaming big in '23
—As the Pigskin turns 50, we look back at every southeastern Minnesota team that has won a state title since its inception in 1974