Football: Stewartville looks to take advantage of opportunity
Stewartville hasn't been to state for quite a while in football so the Tigers are going to enjoy the ride. But the team also has to take care of business.
Stewartville hasn't been to state for quite a while in football so the Tigers are going to enjoy the ride. But the team also plans to take advantage of their opportunity and take care of business.
The Tigers (9-1) will face South St. Paul (9-1) in the Class AAAA state quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Saturday at Rochester Regional Stadium.
South St. Paul, the Section Four champion, is making its second straight state berth and third in four years. Stewartville is at state for the first time since 1986.
"I think everybody's excited," Stewartville coach Aaron Meyer said. "There's a lot of excitement around town."
Stewartville's volleyball team, a nearly annual state power, is also in the state tournament this week.
"I think there will be some nerves," Meyer said of his team. "But I think the fact that we'll be playing on a field that we've played on before helps."
"We just have to keep our heads up and don't dwell on mistakes," Stewartville senior quarterback Aaron Quandt said.
Quandt has sparked a high-power Stewartville passing game. He has thrown 32 touchdown passes this season and has passed for 2,609 yards.
Senior running back Shane Curtis has 1,115 yards rushing for Stewartville. He has 16 touchdowns, 10 in the Tigers' last three games.
"He's running hard and getting better as the season goes on," Meyer said.
Jordan Johnson has also been solid back for the Tigers.
"We're not a one-dimensional team," Meyer said. "I like it when we're running the ball, to be honest, because I think it helps our passing game."
The Tigers also feature a number of talented receivers led by Connor Hanf and Collin Fanton. Hanf has 752 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
"The key is no mental lapses and to play our game," Hanf said.
Stewartville, the Section One championship, has a strong offensive line led by 6-foot-5, 290 pound senior Dillon Holtan. Other starters on the offensive line include senior Kailen McGuire (6-foot, 205 pounds), juniors Dillon Graves (5-10, 210) and Adam Gehling (6-0, 200), and sophomore Dawson Grotjohn (6-1, 250).
South St. Paul likes to run
The Stewartville defense will have to be geared to stop South St. Paul's ground attack. Jaden Bjorklund leads the Packers with 714 yards rushing and quarterback Dan Pietruszewski has 600 yards and 12 touchdowns. Malik Holmes has added 361 yards rushing and the Packers average 231.1 yards a game on the ground.
"They appear to be a pretty dominate running team," Meyer said. "We have to stop the run, and they have a stout defense."
Meyer compared South St. Paul's ground attack to a pair of familiar foes of the Tigers, Lourdes and Plainview-Elgin-Millville. South St. Paul will run the option, but also has the ability to run the ball right up the middle with its backs.
"I think we're going to have to play well up front," Meyer said. "I think we have the size and the talent to compete with them."
Junior Garret Nosbisch (6-foot, 215) has anchored the interior of Stewartville's defensive line.
Pietruszewski has attempted less than nine passes a game this season. He has thrown for 769 yards and 11 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
With Stewartville's elite passing attack, Meyers is hoping for mild weather. But Quandt said poor weather will not impact on how he throws the ball. The coach still figures the game will be decided in the trenches.
"I know it sounds like a cliche, but whichever line dominates, I think that's the team that will be moving on," Meyer said.
The winner advances to the state semifinals on Nov. 15 at Osseo High School.