Pine Island in section final for first time since 1997

This has been a long time coming for the Pine Island football team.

The Panthers have not played in a section championship game since 1997, which is the last time they qualified for state.

This 2013 turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable for a program that has struggled for the better part of a decade. Pine Island was 1-8 each of the previous two seasons and was no better than 3-6 for the past seven seasons. The Panthers' last winning record (6-4) came in 2005.

The move into the Southern Football Alliance's White Division has helped. But so has a new work ethic and coaching staff.

"The work ethic of the team has gotten much better," said Pine Island coach John Stapleton, who took over the program in 2012. "We're not satisfied with where we're at, but the improvement from last year in this area is the most notable."


The improved work ethic has the Panthers (8-2) right where they want to be — at home, playing for a section title. The top-seeded Panthers host Section 2AA's Cinderella story, No. 6-seeded Norwood-Young America.

NYA entered the playoffs 1-7, winning only its final regular-season game against winless Le Sueur-Henderson. The playoff run wasn't completely out of the blue, though. NYA played a brutal regular-season schedule and was competitive against some very good teams.

"They are big across the offensive and defensive fronts and like to run the ball in pro and two-tight end sets," Stapleton said. "Their quarterback is athletic and runs well, and he's also accurate throwing on the run."

Pine Island's only losses this season are to Class AAAA's Kasson-Mantorville and Triton. The Panthers are hoping to play much better than they did a week ago in barely getting past Kenyon-Wanamingo in the semifinals.

"We turned the ball over too much," Stapleton said. "We must take care of the ball and limit the penalties, and we must throw the ball more effectively when given the chance."

Ryan McNallan is Pine Island's top running back. He rushed for more than 700 yards in the regular season. And quarterback Jared Lohmeyer was one of the top passers in the area with 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns during the regular season.

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