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Wolter: Here today, gone tomorrow; hats off to Rebels

One moment, there are three -- count 'em, three -- area high school football teams in the Minnesota state tournament, and in the next moment there are none.

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Doug Wolter/Daily Globe Members of the Jackson County Central Huskies listen to a post-game speech from head coach Tom Schuller after their loss to Rochester Lourdes in the quarterfinals of the Minnesota state Class AAA football tournament. End-of-the season speeches rarely occur after a victory once the playoff season begins.

One moment, there are three -- count ‘em, three -- area high school football teams in the Minnesota state tournament, and in the next moment there are none.

“Survival of the fittest” is the only law you need to know when it comes to the playoffs. A team can dominate during the regular season (Jackson County Central) or inspire crowds by moving up the ranks as the underdog (Murray County Central) and before you know it their seasons are, quite literally, history.

But oh, what a fine history southwest Minnesota’s state tournament representatives made for themselves this year. JCC, MCC and Edgerton/Ellsworth achieved excellence that should not soon be forgotten, and several other area teams made good memories, too, in a season that’s finished in the Daily Globe coverage area but continues this weekend in state tournament semifinal contests.

A few particular thoughts:

-- My vote for most inspirational performance goes to the Murray County Central Rebels, who suffered through a string of losing seasons before turning it around this fall. Coming off a 2-7 record in 2015, MCC won its first three games of 2016, lost its next three, then went on another winning streak before falling to Rushford-Peterson, 44-21, in the state Class A quarterfinals.

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The Rebels surpassed expectations all year long -- the fans’ expectations, I’m betting, but not their own. They easily outpaced a higher seed, Red Rock Central, 34-12, in the section playoffs, then beat top-seeded Adrian in overtime for the section crown. They looked overmatched against the Dragons in the first half of their section final, but never lost hope, toughening up in the second half to win a battle for the ages.

I spoke with MCC head coach Patrick Freeman on a couple of occasions prior to the Adrian win and, in explaining his team’s essence, he always preferred to talk about the players’ “family” spirit, their unusual camaraderie and determination to play for each other. Coaches typically talk about togetherness, in fact, so I didn’t think a whole lot of it until I spoke with Coach Freeman again after the Adrian win.

Again he spoke of the team’s togetherness. That, more than anything, explained the Rebels’ remarkable season, he said.

I came away convinced that he was right, especially after hearing his players repeat the same thing. The Rebels were not a team that impressed you with their size or their speed. They just played really, really hard for each other and never gave up. That’s a great testimony to them, and their coach.

-- It will be interesting to see what the Marshall Tigers do Thursday in their Class AAAA semifinal game against Benilde-St. Margaret’s School (4:30 p.m. at U.S. Bank Stadium). I remember watching MHS beat the Worthington Trojans 64-0 in a regular season game and thinking that it was like watching a college team.

That’s no knock on the Trojans, who played with heart and grit to a solid 4-4 regular season finish. The Trojans had a good year, and if not for the schedule-maker putting them in a mismatch, they would have entered the postseason with a winning record.

Marshall’s only real test thus far has occurred in the Section 2 AAAA championship when it edged Hutchinson 17-14. Hutchinson was the No. 2-ranked AAAA team in the state (compared to Marshall’s No. 3) heading into that game.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s is unranked. If the Tigers win on Thursday, they face the winner of the other semifinal between Winona (10-1) and Rocori (9-3). Winona is ranked No. 6. Rocori is unranked. For what it’s worth.

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-- Can anyone beat Grand Meadow and Caledonia in the state tournament? Will anyone ever?

Caledonia, which beat Pipestone Area 40-0 for the Class AA championship in 2015, has won seven state titles in 11 state appearances, including five times from 2007 to 2012. The No. 1-ranked Warriors (11-0) clobbered Lakeview 58-16 in the quarterfinals on Saturday and face unbeaten Barnesville in the semifinals on Friday. Before JCC took the field at Gustavus Adolphus College Saturday, Caledonia was mopping up on Lakeview and causing pressroom reporters to opine that the Warriors cannot be beaten. We’ll see. Barnesville is the state’s No. 2-ranked team.

As for Grand Meadow, the Superlarks are working on a 48-game winning streak and gunning for a fourth-straight 9-Man championship. Senior running back Christopher Bain ran for 250 yards in a 36-0 victory over Edgerton/Ellsworth last week, and that’s just plain ridiculous if you remember just how tough the Flying Dutchmen have been this year.

I’m not going to call the Superlarks a lock for the state championship, however, because I know how things can change. Five games into this year’s NFL regular season, I was already wondering who the Vikings would face in the Super Bowl. Now, not so much.

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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