WORTHINGTON -- What began as a hopeful football season, but ended in a frustrating section tournament loss to longtime rival Jackson County Central, has left many Worthington High School fans wondering how things might have been different.
The Trojans finished the 2020 campaign with a 1-6 record. They put it all together in one regular season game, a 27-8 victory over New Ulm in front of hometown fans at their brand new turf Trojan Field. But though they looked special at times in the other games, they also made untimely mistakes that had coaches and rooters scratching their heads.
The end-of-year statistics tell a story that only statistics can tell. Coach Geno Lais’ fall gridders scored 79 points and allowed 201. They gained 84 first downs and gave up 112. They threw for 1,084 yards and had 553 yards thrown against them. They rushed for 357, allowed 1,500. They gained a total of 1,441 yards and gave up 2,053.
The disparity in passing and rushing yards is notable. Besides an improved line and talented defenders including Kent Lais, Godmar Gach, Tate Gaul and others, the Trojans had two skilled quarterbacks this year, seniors Brock Bruns and Terbuto Ochothow. Bruns is a strong-armed, accurate passer. Ochothow is also strong-armed, and his ability to run added to the team’s danger factor in the backfield. Several fine receivers, led by tight end Tommy Lais, contributed to the Trojans’ passing proficiency.
But in the high school ranks, the aerial game rarely moves the chains consistently. Coach Lais knew early-on that his Trojans needed to develop a more productive running attack, and because they were unable to, the passing game was not as dangerous as it could have been.
Try as they might, WHS only once was able to play four solid quarters of football. Penalties and turnovers played a big part in the team’s final record.
“We had so many guys playing both ways, and on special teams. I think, at times, we wear down physically and mentally,” Coach Lais said, looking back.
Worthington appeared capable of upsetting favored JCC in its Section 3AAA opener. The Huskies began the year poorly and despite the fact that they’d won their previous two contests against struggling teams from Pipestone Area and Fairmont, 2020 was a rebuilding year for them.
Yet, JCC rolled up 348 yards rushing against Worthington and had 64 offensive plays to the Trojans’ 44.
“It really came down to them being more physical than us, and controlling the line of scrimmage,” said Coach Lais on Wednesday morning. “You always prepare for that going against Jackson.”
Indeed, the Trojans were not caught off guard. Lais knew that JCC had controlled the clock in the Fairmont game, running the ball on 21 of 22 plays in the fourth quarter according to his own count. He also knew that the Huskies can always be counted on to play tough in the trenches.
“We weren’t surprised. We were prepared. We just weren’t able to handle it,” said the coach.
The season’s disappointing finish doesn’t tarnish the bright spots that did occur.
“We kind of had high hopes, which we do every season,” said Coach Lais. “We knew we had some talented players. … We had moments where we thought we were a pretty good football team.”
He added, “We had some very bright moments. We just couldn’t put 48 minutes together, which is what you have to do to be a good football team.”
The final minutes of the Jackson County Central game degenerated into chippiness on the part of both teams. On the Trojans’ part, it’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, when a team on its last legs answers back when it feels it has been insulted (the alleged details will not be printed here).
“When you play the old Southwest Conference teams, there’s always a rivalry,” Coach Lais explained. “Our guys knew it was their last time on the field. That’s always a hard moment.”
Even so, the veteran coach said his players felt fortunate to have played seven full games in this COVID-19 season. The final score will eventually be forgotten. Lais said he’s proud of the progress his players made as individuals. They got better in the weight room, there was strong senior leadership, and they showed themselves to be good members of the community while taking part in numerous civic-minded activities which they did cheerfully.