MINNEOTA - The Minneota/Lincoln HI football team has looked at their move to Class 2A as a challenge instead of a problem, and the Vikings are right where they want to be.
In the state football tournament.
"We're pretty happy about where we're at right now," said Vikings head coach Chad Johnston. "It felt like, going into the year, we were going to have a pretty good squad. We definitely had some question marks. We were not real certain how things would exactly go."
File photo by Tom Larson
Minneota/Lincoln?HI’s Jeff Gladis carries the ball against Paynesville Area last Friday at the University of Minnesota at Morris.
Minneota/Lincoln HI's successful jump from Class A to Class 2A has resulted in an 11-0 record and a fourth place finish in the final Associated Press poll. But their opponent, Moose Lake/Willow River is no stranger to the state tournament.
The Rebels are 10-0, finishing second in the AP poll, have made it to the state championship game the last two seasons and have reached the state tournament the last eight years.
"Moose Lake/Willow River is obviously a very successful team," Johnston said. "Being in the state finals the last two years, it says a lot about a team."
According to Johnston, Moose Lake/Willow River is a run-first team that takes advantage of their size up front.
"They are pretty much a very run-orientated team. They run a version of the double wing that we saw from MCC for many years and they'll run some I-backs out of it, some straight power, but their passing is set up by the run game," said Johnston. "They have a lot of big kids up front. They have a good mix of running backs. Our goal going into it is to take away their run game and force them into something they are not as comfortable with."
Offensively, Minneota/Lincoln HI hopes to exploit its team speed and a wide-open passing game.
"They see a lot of teams that are similar to them in terms of running the ball, formations and style," Johnston said. "I don't think they see a lot of teams like us that like to spread it out. Hopefully, that's something that will be an advantage for us.
"I think they're going to do their best to sustain some very good drives and keep the ball out of our hands. Play that clock management game. If we can get our things going, like we've been able to do and make a couple big plays, we might be able to get up on them and that will change their style and game plan."
One major difference for the Vikings will be their bus time. The two teams will meet at Chisago Lakes Area High School, which is northeast of the Twin Cities.
Johnston hopes that breaking up the trip will help keep their legs fresh.
"The biggest concern is that your legs have been sitting for so many hours. That's why we're going to try and break it up," said Johnston. "We want to be their early enough to get our legs back under us, but not so early that you're amped up early and are sitting there with a lot of down time."
Facing new teams in a different class could deter some teams, but for the Vikings, its become motivation.
"We're trying to add a little fuel there. This is a team that's been there two years in a row and hasn't been able to pull off the big one," Johnston said. "I'm sure they are motivated. They want to prove something. So, they are going to come out firing at us.
"In our first year of moving up to Class AA, we're sitting in the state tournament. That's something to be proud of. I am excited for the kids for doing this."