Stewartville-Byron section final rematch tops list of games to watch this week
3-0 Stewartville, ranked No. 3 in the state in Class AAAA, will host 2-1 Byron in a Big Southeast District Blue Division clash on Friday
STEWARTVILLE — Stewartville and Byron have a nice little rivalry going in football.
It helps when the schools are long time conference (or district) foes, have had some decent success and square off on the big stage in the postseason.
That would definitely describe the two programs in recent years. Unbeaten and state-ranked Stewartville (3-0) and Byron (2-1) will go at it again in regular-season play as Stewartville hosts the Bears at 7 p.m. Friday in a Big Southeast District Blue Division contest.
“It’s awesome to have some schools that we’re rivals with,” Byron coach Ben Halder said. “It’s a big section game.”
A year ago Stewartville defeated Byron during the regular season and earned the top seed in the Section 1AAAA playoffs. But the Bears then knocked off the Tigers in the section semifinals, successfully converting a two-point conversion in overtime for a 22-21 win. Byron trailed 14-0 in that game with 3 minutes remaining in regulation.
“It’s a competitive rivalry,” Stewartville coach Garrett Mueller said. “I think both schools are looking forward to competing against each other. We each won once last year and they obviously came out on top in the playoffs so our guys are hungry to get back on the field against them.”
Stewartville has a deep and talented team and has been terrific so far this season. The Tigers, ranked No. 3 in the state in Class AAAA, have dominated their first three opponents, winning by an average score of 56.0-3.3.
“They’re absolutely fantastic,” Halder said. “They’ve got skill kids, they’ve got big kids, they’ve got coaching. They’ve got a little bit of everything. They’ll be dangerous.”
Mueller said the Tigers have benefited by having a strong overall group of players.
“I really feel like we don’t have a weak spot on either side of the ball right now,” he said. “We have guys who have really committed to our process and what we are doing and they bought into what we’re asking them to do. And they’re executing at a really high level right now.”
The Tigers have a good combination of speed and size. Owen Sikkink has been a main cog in the offense. He is Stewartville’s leading rusher with about 250 yards rushing and is also used effectively in the passing game with about 150 receiving yards. He has scored 10 touchdowns and is also a threat as a kick returner.
Tigers quarterback Ayden Helder has thrown for about 450 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes. He has thrown to a wide range of receivers.
Byron also has relied on a top running back. Adam Glynn leads the Bears with approximately 400 yards rushing and six touchdowns. QB Kale Robinson has thrown for a couple hundred yards and has spread the ball around.
The Byron defense has forced 10 turnovers in three games, including five in last week’s overtime loss to Winona.
“That’s another trend we want to see continue,” Halder said. “If you can get turnovers, you have a shot every week.”
After starting its season with a 28-17 victory against Kasson-Mantorville, Byron has played back-to-back 21-20 games, one a victory against Faribault and the other an overtime loss to Winona. The Bears were No. 4 in the Class AAAA state poll before the loss to Winona, and are now out of the top 10, but are receiving votes.
This week, both coaches say their team needs to play within themselves and focus on what they do best.
“It has a lot to do with them, but it has a lot to do with us as well,” Halder said. “We have to do well with the game plan and the scheme, but we also have to individually do our jobs and play for each other.”
Focus hasn’t been an issue at all for Stewartville this season.
“Our section right now is probably as tough as any so I’m proud of the way we’ve come out,” Mueller said. “We’re just focused and ready to play at a high level. We haven’t been worried about distractions, guys are just focused on the things they’ve got to do.”
• Spring Grove at Grand Meadow, 1 p.m. Saturday: Spring Grove is off to an offensive start this season. The 3-0 Lions are ranked No. 6 in the state in Nine-Man and they are averaging a lusty 54.7 points per game this season behind QB Elijah Solum, who passed for 235 yards and three TDs last week while running for another 135 yards and two scores. Grand Meadow has won two straight after losing its season opener. The Superlarks, under rookie coach Josh Bain, are receiving votes in the state poll.
• Fillmore Central at Faribault Bethlehem Academy, 1 p.m. Saturday: Unbeaten Fillmore Central (3-0) is ranked No. 6 in the state in Class A and this could be the Falcons' toughest test so far. Bethlehem Academy enters the game 2-1 and has bounced back for a pair of close wins after losing 21-0 to Lester Prairie in its opener. The stingy Fillmore Central defense is allowing 6.7 points per game while the offense, led by QB Dillon O'Connor, averages a lofty 32.3. O'Connor passed for 284 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Rushford-Peterson last week.
• Lourdes at La Crescent-Hokah, 7 p.m. Friday: La Crescent-Hokah has been the surprise of southeastern Minnesota in the first half of the 2022 season. Under first-year head coach Terry Donovan — a long-time assistant coach at Kasson-Mantorville — the Lancers are off to a 2-1 start. After a narrow 26-21 season-opening loss at Triton, La Crescent-Hokah has strung together back-to-back wins against Zumbrota-Mazeppa (41-16) and Lake City (28-7). It's the first two-game winning streak for the Lancers since 2015, when they started 2-1 with wins against Kasson-Mantorville and Lake City. QB AJ Donovan, senior receiver Carter Todd and senior RB Logan DeBoer have led the way statistically for the Lancers. ... Lourdes is also off to a strong start. After a season-opening loss to Class AA state power Chatfield, the Eagles have been strong on both sides of the ball, winning back-to-back home games against St. Charles (24-7) and Pine Island (34-0). The Eagles are led by their lines on both sides. Defensively, they recorded four sacks last week against Pine Island, including two by Will Roth. On offense, Sellner has rushed for 207 yards and four touchdowns, while freshman Caleb Akinbolu has rushed for 226 yards and three TDs. Aidan Jahns is the team's leading receiver with five catches for 106 yards; Hudson Fix has five catches for 88 yards.
• Century at Mankato West, noon Saturday: Winless Century (0-3) concludes the first half of its tough four-game stretch with prehaps the toughest foe yet. Mankato West (3-0) is the defending Class AAAAA state champion and ranked No. 1 in the state. "Mankato West is an excellent football team," Century coach Jon Vik said. "Offensively, West possess a physical run game and has explosive players on the perimeter as well as in the backfield. We know we have to play our best defensive game of the year this week. Defensively, they may be the best in the conference. Last week Owatonna had a hard time moving the ball on them. West controls the line of scrimmage and has speed to track down any players who may get in the open field." Despite a 49-18 loss to Mayo last week, Vik saw some encouraging signs, noting some "mental things that are correctable. That will be a point of emphasis for us in the coming weeks."