Mayo ready to tackle top-ranked Owatonna in section final
The blueprint is there for Rochester Mayo.
Fifteen days ago, the Spartans came within one possession of upsetting No. 5-ranked Mankato West in the final game of the high school football regular season.
Though Mayo came out on the wrong end of a 39-34 score that night, it knows exactly what it has to do to keep up with the best teams in the state.
And the Spartans will face the best on Friday night.
Mayo (6-3), the No. 2 seed in the Section One, Class AAAAA playoffs, will travel to top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Owatonna (9-0) for a 7 p.m. rematch of last year's section championship game. Owatonna led that game 28-20 at halftime, then pulled away in the second half for a 49-28 victory.
"We have to do a lot of things differently (than last year)," Mayo coach Donny Holcomb said. "No. 1, we have to execute, be disciplined on both sides of the ball and we'll have to make big plays. We'll have to stop their big plays by being disciplined in our assignments."
In the narrow loss to West, Mayo nearly played a flawless game. The Spartans forced four turnovers — including intercepting Scarlets' QB Ryan Schlichte three times — and didn't turn the ball over. Mayo also committed just five penalties.
That's the type of effort Mayo will need against the Huskies, who finished as the state runners-up last season. Owatonna averages 40.9 points per game and allows just 11.2.
The Spartans, seeking their first trip to state since 1997, will need to play with even more intensity than they did in a 27-14 victory against rival Rochester John Marshall in last Saturday's section semifinals.
"As the game went on, we played tougher and tougher," Holcomb said. "We never once backed down. We talked about battling through adversity, the ups and downs during a game. The biggest thing is how bad do you want it?"
Not much is different about the Owatonna team that Mayo faces on Friday, compared to last year.
The Huskies' potent running attack is led by a strong and quick offensive line that paves the way for senior running back Aaron Peterson (175 carries, 1,314 yards, 18 TDs). Peterson sliced up Mayo's defense for 303 yards and five touchdowns in last year's section final, as the Huskies totaled 417 rushing yards in the game.
Quarterback Ian Langeberg is following nicely in the footsteps of school record-setter Colton Schock, who graduated last spring. Langeberg has passed for 20 touchdowns this season, one shy of Schock's school record.
Mayo hopes to counter with its own balanced offensive attack.
Spartans junior QB Jay Alston has improved consistently this season. Alston has completed 84 of 167 passes for 1,291 yards, 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He has thrown for 564 total yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception in the past three games.
"Jay is one heck of a quarterback," senior offensive lineman and team captain Jonathan Rojas said. "I'd follow behind him any day. We lost a very good quarterback from last year (2,000-yard passer Eric Manges), but Jay has stepped up and put up a lot of good yardage, both passing and running the ball."
Alston's top targets are junior receiver Michael Michalak (37 receptions, 690 yards, nine TDs) and tight end Matt Rogers (28 rec., 388 yards, six TDs). Michalak's 690 receiving yards are the fourth-most in a season in program history and his 37 catches are fifth-most.
Senior Tommy Fjelsted has become the team's top rusher. Running behind an offensive line that has gotten better each week in all aspects, Fjelsted has rushed for 735 yards this season. Senior Loren Lorang has 539 rushing yards.
"Last year, we lost to them for the Big Nine Conference (title), we lost to them in the section finals, which was a bummer," Rojas said. "We're going to take what we've learned from all these games, put it together and we're going to try our best to beat them."