SLAYTON —Rylan Behnke is a physical football player and one of the main reasons Murray County Central’s Rebels won their six regular-season games this fall.
On Friday night that winning streak ended, but there really weren’t any losers here under the Friday night lights.
“No joke,” Behnke said. “I’m so thankful we got to play one more game and have some sort of closure.”
Carter Benz passed for 242 yards and two touchdowns and teammate Nick Marotzke rushed for 150 yards and a score as the Wabasso Rabbits defeated MCC 28-15 in the 3A Section championship game. Wabasso, which avenged a 20-12 loss to the Rebels a month ago and posted its seventh victory in eight games, out-gained MCC 451-224 in total yards and forced four turnovers on a crisp November night that ended hours before Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s pandemic-caused “pause” of high school sports.
Simply to be out there playing felt like a win for both teams.
“Tell you what,” said Wabasso coach Joe Kemp, “it was a great high school football game.
“We were happy to have another night to play, that’s the big takeaway from this.”
Benz, one of 15 Wabasso seniors, threw a pair of second-half touchdown passes to Colby Wall. The second, a 17-yarder on the first play of the fourth quarter, gave the Rabbits a 21-8 lead.
The Rebels rallied moments later behind senior stars Dylan Johnson and Blake Schmitz, who both enjoyed fantastic regular seasons as MCC went 6-0. Johnson ripped off a 23-yard run that led to Schmitz’s 6-yard TD pass to Chant Mitchell with 6:41 to play. Schmitz added the PAT as the Rebels drew within 21-15.
But Wabasso put an exclamation point on the victory with a 90-yard touchdown drive to clinch it. Benz hit Will Carlson for 14 yards on a 3rd-and-7 call, then two plays later went up top to Wall for a 38-yarder.
With about 70 seconds to play, Wabasso’s Hunter Taylor rumbled up the middle on a 15-yard touchdown run that iced it.
Benz finished 13-for-22 passing with no picks. Wall had nine receptions for 160 yards. Marotzke, a rugged 195-pounder, ran out of the I-formation the majority of the time. He lugged it 26 times, including a 16-carry, 125-yard effort in the first half that set the tone.
“We’ve got such a great line and such a great running game,” Benz said. “We start with the run and set up the pass. That makes such a big difference and makes me look better than I am.”
Wabasso earned a spot in the Prep Bowl a few years ago under Kemp, who said he plans to step down from his post after 16 years on the job. Though his 2020 team won’t get the chance to advance, it’s a worthy championship squad.
“They’re physical and they can do everything,” said MCC head coach Patrick Freeman. “We knew it was going to be a battle. They made more plays than us tonight.”
But few teams made as many memories this fall than the Rebels.
“This whole season is one to remember,” Freeman said. “I’m extremely proud of everyone on our team.
“We were able to play one more game and we embraced every moment of it.”
Said Kemp: “MCC is an unbelievable team and we knew we had be excellent in all phases. We played a great first half, establishing the running game through the tackles, and that opened up some passing lanes.”
For the Rebels, Johnson rushed for 79 yards and Schmitz passed for 104. Schmitz threw a 31-yard completion to Dawson Tutt and scored from the 1 on the next play as MCC took an 8-0 lead early in the second quarter.
But Wabasso stormed back and took a 9-8 halftime lead.
“It’s just an honor to get to play teams like this and have our last game be against such a great team,” said Behnke, who recovered a fumble and was in on 11 tackles.
Juniors Christian Kuball and Kevin Garcia led the MCC defensive line, while sophomore safety Jaden Deacon also played well.
The Rebels were top-seeded and Wabasso was No. 2 in the section tournament, which was shortened because of the governor’s mandate. (Today) Saturday was to have been the section semifinals, with MCC playing host to Russell-Tyler-Ruthton and Springfield at Wabasso.