This is shaping up to be the "Year of the Quarterback," in southeastern Minnesota.
There are so many making tremendous impacts on their teams, led by a group of six — Blooming Prairie’s Drew Kittelson, Lake City’s Justin Wohlers, Mayo’s Bennett Ellsworth, LeRoy-Ostrander’s Chase Johnson, Stewartville’s Eli Klavetter and Kasson-Mantorville's Matthew Donovan.
Good luck picking the top one from that group, even though I gave it an entirely unsure shot.
Find that near the bottom of this "Football Focus." Now let's get to what's developed in the last week.
Week 3's Top Performers
1. QB Eli Klavetter, Stewartville
Waiting one's turn isn’t easy. That’s especially true when you’re as talented as Stewartville quarterback Klavetter, a strong-armed, 6-foot-3 senior. But wait he did until three-year starter Will Tschetter finally graduated from Stewartville in the spring. Klavetter is proving the wait to have been worth it as he keeps tearing things up for a Tigers team that’s 3-0. Klavetter threw for 292 yards and five touchdowns Friday as No. 9-ranked Stewartville beat No. 10-ranked Faribault 35-26. Klavetter was a blistering 21-for-28 passing, with no interceptions.
2. QB Justin Wohlers, Lake City
Wohlers doesn’t seem to settle for anything less than a sterling performance. At least that’s been the case so far this season as the 6-5 star quarterback has guided his team to a 3-0 start. On Friday, he tore Lourdes up with 286 yards passing (22-for-25 accuracy) and four touchdowns, as well as rushed for 86 yards and two TDs.
3. DE Ezra Kiley, Blooming Prairie
On a somewhat discombobulated night for the No. 1-ranked Blossoms, Kiley helped restore order from his defensive end position. The 6-0, 190-pound senior totaled three sacks and finished with four solo tackles and five assists in Blooming Prairie’s 33-6 win over United South Central.
4. QB Tate Gilbertson, Winona Cotter
Cotter is not in the habit of winning games. Going into this season, the Ramblers had won just one of their last 23 outings. But now look at them. Cotter is 2-1. The latest triumph came behind Gilbertson. The senior threw for 285 yards and four touchdowns Friday in a 33-12 win over Wabasha-Kellogg.
5. RB Sam Backer, Chatfield
Backer was all over the field in a 30-0 win over Caledonia. That included scoring — or aiding in scoring — in every way. There was a 53-yard interception return for a TD by him, a 67-yard TD run and an 8-yard pass for a touchdown. He also finished with 163 yards rushing as Chatfield beat Caledonia for the first time since 2013.
Week 3 Power Rankings
(Editor's note: These rankings are considered "pound-for-pound" rankings, similar to many rankings systems in boxing and mixed martial arts. They represent the best teams in southeastern Minnesota, relative to the class they play in.)
1. Mayo (3-0)
No need to move Mayo from a spot that it’s occupied since Week 1. The Spartans are 3-0 and untested. On Friday, they put up 42 points against Century. And to give even more credence to this lofting ranking, they did it while playing their best defensive game of the season, pitching a shutout. Senior Cayden Holcomb was unguardable, finishing with 138 yards receiving, with touchdown grabs of 52 and 39 yards. If Mayo can keep this kind of defense up, it will be a serious state title contender.
2. Lanesboro (3-0)
The Burros have already had three big tests, all against teams considered section contenders when the season started — Grand Meadow, Southland and LeRoy-Ostrander. The Burros have passed all of them with relative ease. L-O came closest, on Friday. But even that was a two-score win by Lanesboro. Big, fast and skilled. That describes the Burros.
3. Lake City (3-0)
All right Tigers, we get it. You really are for real. When a team goes a combined 6-24 the previous four seasons, it’s tough to immediately buy into a resurrection. But we've seen enough now. The Tigers, behind stellar quarterback Justin Wohlers, are the real deal. The latest proof came Friday with Lake City hanging 46 points on perennial power Lourdes. So up these Tigers go, from seventh in our last pound-for-pound poll, to third.
4. Plainview-Elgin-Millville (3-0)
P-E-M also goes up one spot here. This is a nasty bunch of Bulldogs, one that plays defense better than anybody in southeastern Minnesota. In three games, P-E-M has given up a total of six points. Six!! It can score, too, managing 34 points per game. It has one big-time win on its ledger, beating powerful Chatfield 31-6 in its season-opener.
5. Blooming Prairie (3-0)
The Blossoms didn’t have longtime coach Chad Gimbel in a perfect mood following their 33-6 win Friday over United South Central. The score sounds good enough. But his team wasn’t nearly crisp enough for Gimbel’s taste. It didn’t play like the No. 1-ranked Class AA team that it is.
6. Stewartville (3-0)
Stewartville struggled slightly defensively in the first half against No. 10-ranked Faribault on Friday. But after that, the ninth-ranked Tigers were lights out, pitching a shutout the rest of the way en route to a 35-26 win. They also featured a quarterback, Eli Klavetter, who’s been tearing things up. Klavetter was great again in helping guide the showdown win over Faribault, throwing five touchdown passes and good for nearly 300 yards through the air.
7. LeRoy-Ostrander (2-1)
There’s no shame in losing to No. 5-ranked Lanesboro, which the Cardinals just did, 38-27. That’s not a bad score against a team as loaded as the Burros. L-O is loaded, too, with speed and an ability to pass or run on offense. The Cardinals have an emerging star at receiver, Tristan Lewiston. He had three TD grabs against Lanesboro, from 56, 58 and 55 yards.
8. Cannon Falls (3-0)
The Bombers had looked good, but not quite great on offense the first two weeks of the season. That changed in Week 3. Cannon Falls put up 57 points against Pine Island, doing all kinds of damage on the ground. They racked up 400 yards rushing, Carson Hammel leading the way with 145 ground yards. Three others had at least 56 yards in Cannon Falls’ tough-to-defend option attack.
9. Rushford-Peterson (3-0)
Here’s another team without a loss. The Trojans’ latest win was their most impressive yet, 42-14 over Kenyon-Wanamingo. R-P is playing consistently great defense, allowing just 12 points per game. And Malachi Bunke is a big weapon at quarterback. He had four TD passes against the Knights and threw for 199 yards.
10. Chatfield (2-1)
The Gophers make their first appearance in this poll. They deserve it as they've seemingly gotten better every week since losing their opener to defensive-minded Plainview-Elgin-Millville. Chatfield is coming off a 30-0 win over Caledonia and has one of the best running backs (Sam Backer) and offensive lines around.
• There’s a heck of a test waiting for LeRoy-Ostrander, which just got done going against No. 5-ranked Nine-Man team Lanesboro on Friday (losing 38-27). This next matchup figures to be even tougher, with L-O hosting No. 1 ranked Mountain Lake Area on Friday. Mountain Lake has already played two top-10 ranked teams, including blasting No. 9 ranked Edgerton 43-0.
• Three teams from southeastern Minnesota are ranked in the top 10 in Class AAA. Two of them will meet Friday, with No. 4 Lake City traveling to take on No. 10 Plainview-Elgin-Millville. It marks Lake City’s prolific offense, led by maybe the best quarterback in these parts, Justin Wohlers, taking on a Bulldogs defense that’s allowing two points per game. Lake City is averaging 37 points and just got done scoring 46 against Lourdes.
Things I Think...
This is the best bunch of quarterbacks that southeastern Minnesota has had in recent memory. It is a loaded group, led by Blooming Prairie’s Drew Kittelson, Lake City’s Justin Wohlers, Mayo’s Bennett Ellsworth, LeRoy-Ostrander’s Chase Johnson, Stewartville’s Eli Klavetter and Kasson-Mantorville's Matthew Donovan.
The two best option QBs in that bunch are Johnson and Donovan, guys who rack up big rushing yards every week. The rest of them can all run, too, but rely even more on tremendously accurate and strong arms.
And the best of the best? I’m starting to think it’s Wohlers, all 6-feet-5, 200 pounds of him. In three games, Wohlers has already passed for 674 yards and rushed for 303. Wohlers was 22-for-25 passing against Lourdes, for 285 yards and four touchdowns.
Or is it Ellsworth (three games, 753 passing yards, 7 TDs)?
Or Kittelson (three games, 818 passing yards, 10 TDs)?
Or Klavetter (three games, 641 passing yards, 10 TDs)?
Yes, it is.