No doubt, some teams are already looking ahead to the postseason, but for the Worthington Trojans, tonight’s game (Wednesday) against New Ulm, at New Ulm, looms large.
The Trojans are 0-7. They have played several strong opponents and a couple others that they thought they could beat, but their closest game to date has been a 27-point loss to Jordan in their season opener.
Now, in their final game before the Section 3AAA playoffs begin, they know they’ve got a legitimate chance against the Eagles, who have also struggled throughout the season. New Ulm won its first game on the field Friday by beating Belle Plaine 26-20 (Belle Plaine has won just once this season). That same Friday morning, the Eagles had a season-opening loss turned into a victory when Tri-City United was flagged for using an ineligible player.
Ironically, if New Ulm can win its second straight by beating Worthington, it might host a first-round playoff contest for the first time since 2009. That would depend on a couple of other section games going the Eagles’ way tonight, but it certainly provides added incentive for their game against the Trojans.
The Trojans just want to win. They’re coming off a 46-6 loss to powerful Waseca at Trojan Field in their last game, but head coach Geno Lais says hope is alive.
“Waseca is a pretty good team, they’re athletic, and they made some good plays,” Lais said on Monday. “But I think we found some things later in the game that we think we can do. We found a way to eliminate some mistakes in the second half, and we played with a lot of enthusiasm.
“There’s a little energy and enthusiasm we saw after the game,” he said.
Lais believes the coaching staff came to a necessary conclusion after the Waseca game; that is, they need to simplify the Trojans’ offense and defense and to identify the running game as the offense’s identity. No more “cute stuff,” he said.
For most of the season, Worthington has been inconsistent in both the running game and the passing game. But there are a few good running backs on the team -- freshman Jacari Swinea and senior Andrew Dorcey for starters -- and their best weapon of all has probably been senior Jake Brandner when he’s running the football.
Brandner also possesses a good throwing arm, but his protection has broken down at times, and none of the receivers have shown consistency.
As for the defense, simplicity is also the watchword. It’s not about schemes, Lais said. “Just line up, know your gap assignments and tackle.”
New Ulm, said the WHS coach, is a team that runs often. It uses some wing-T concepts and uses some deception in the backfield. “If you get caught watching that, you can get in trouble,” Lais said.
“It’s important,” added the coach, “for us to see some success with our hard work” and to go into the playoffs on a winning note.
Elsewhere in southwest Minnesota, tonight affords unbeaten Murray County Central -- ranked No. 1 in Class A -- and the second-ranked Class AA team, unbeaten Pipestone Area, one last tune-up before the postseason. MCC will host a 3-4 Adrian/Ellsworth team while the Arrows go on the road to play 1-6 Windom Area.
MCC head coach Patrick Freeman said he's keeping his Rebels focused. "I try not to spend too much time on rankings. Trying to keep the kids focused on one game at a time," he explained, adding that the players' primary strength this year might be their resiliency, taking into account their ability to win two tight regular season contests against Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Martin County West.
Other area contests have Jackson County Central at St. Peter, Luverne at Waseca, Hills-Beaver Creek at Edgerton, Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda at Red Rock Central and Cedar Mountain at Westbrook-Walnut Grove.