SLEEPY EYE - More than a year ago, the Sleepy Eye St. Mary's football team wasn't much of a threat for a lot of the teams in the Southern Minnesota Conference as the Knights struggled to win games and build a consistent program.
But at about the halfway point of last year, the Knights turned from a school known as a Southern Minnesota baseball power to one that's a threat year-around. Last year, they figured out how to win on the football field, finishing the season with a loss to Mahnomen in the Class A semifinals at the Metrodome.
Many of those same athletes enjoyed success on the basketball court and the baseball diamond, but that success on the football field brought a new love for the sport and this year the Knights have reaped those benefits.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s quarterback Jordan Anderson has passed for more than 2,300 yards and rushed for more than 900 as the unbeaten Knights return to Class A State Football action Saturday at Rochester Community/Technical College against Faribaul Bethlehem Academy.
The Knights (10-0) open the Class A State Football quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Saturday when they play Faribault Bethlehem Academy (9-2) at Rochester Community/Technical College.
It's the second straight trip to state for the Knights and quarterback Jordan Anderson, who was named the 2011 All-Journal Offensive Player of The Year.
For the quarterback, winning has been fun. But this year, he's had a lot more fun knowing it's his last chance to do so.
"It's like deja vu, but this year it's a little different since it's our senior year," Anderson said.
For head coach Brent Kucera and his staff, preparing for the second trip to state has been much more relaxing. Kucera finds that he knows how to pace himself throughout the week, meaning this week of practice has been less stressful for him and his team.
"It's been a lot easier, we know what to expect now, you learn how to watch film properly," he said. "It's been a lot easier coaching this year, last year I got completely burnt out, this year I can pace myself and you just know what to expect, especially the kids too."
While there are some similarities, it must be noted that the Knights didn't get off to a fast start last year and got hot late in the season. That momentum carried over to this year, and they were ranked No. 2 in the latest Class A Prep Football Poll.
"It was a lot different this year," he said. "Last year we were the underdogs trying to take down the big guys and this year, we had the target on our back. We had to step up and play to everyone's expectations."
After they reached state in football, they created a new hunger for the sport the school hasn't seen in a while.
"This year, after the success last year, it seemed like football became a pretty big priority," Anderson said. "Getting everyone ready to play, we were pretty much pumped up all summer, knowing that we were only a couple months away from football."
Anderson's senior year has been pretty good, to say the least. His ability to throw the ball deep or take off and run with the ball makes him a very dangerous weapon for the opponents to try to contain. This year, he's passed for 2,321 yards, 25 touchdowns and has only been intercepted three times. He's also rushed for 927 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His favorite target has been fellow senior Sean Mathiowetz, who's racked up 976 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. John Brandl has 451 yards receiving and six touchdowns and Mitch Neid has rushed for 636 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The combination of Anderson to Mathiowetz has been especially fun to watch as the two cousins seem to know exactly how the other one is going to react. Their leadership has been unquestioned in their senior season.
"The biggest thing is just the confidence and knowing what they're going to do," Kucera said. "They know that they have to be patient and the opportunity will come. They know that the other teams are trying to take them away and they don't care if somebody else gets the glory. The biggest thing is Sean is teaching the younger receivers [at practice] and Jordan's already teaching the younger quarterbacks and they're just bringing everybody along with them."
St. Mary's ranks sixth in Class A with 41.6 points per game and 11th in points allowed per game at 14.3. Kucera said the defense has been tough all season
"What's tough, is we have the [defensive backs] to cover the receivers one-on-one," Kucera said. "We have some big, physical guys. We're bigger and stronger than some teams think we are."
This year, the Knights ran the same offense that they ran from about the midway point of last year. Having a full season of the current offense under his belt, Anderson feels more comfortable now.
"It was really nice this year, when we came in, we knew all we really had to change was just put in some new guys at some of the positions like running back," Anderson said. "We knew the system so this year we got to put in some wrinkles here and there and just try to perfect the stuff that we had."
Besides the backfield, the Knights also got a new offensive line because of graduation. Anderson said the new players have done a very good job.
"Last year we had the whole senior line basically, so this year it's a lot different having a bunch of young guys," Anderson said. "But they filled in really well. They filled in their role and the first game of the year we had to figure out what our line's going to be able to do. After that game, we felt pretty confident."
The Knights take on the Section 1 champion Cardinals, who come into Saturday's action allowing only 8.3 points per game, which is second in the state. Their first loss of the season was to Blooming Prairie, 12-7 in the seventh week and they lost to another Class A State Tournament team, St. Clair, 13-6 in Week 8. The Cardinals redeemed themselves with a 56-13 crushing of Blooming Prairie in the Section 1A title game last week.
It's the first time the Cardinals have played in the state football tournament, but Kucera expects a big challenge.
"I think they're solid across the board," Kucera said. "They run the ball, they can pass the ball, they have a strong line and the biggest thing with them is they're senior-dominated."
Blake Langerud has rushed for 1,135 yards and 14 touchdowns and quarterback Kyle Filzen has 14 rushing touchdowns and 560 yards rushing. Filzen also has thrown for 643 yards and 15 touchdowns. Tim Angell has 331 yards receiving and six touchdowns to lead the receivers.
The Knights know that they have to be ready for the Cardinals and Anderson and company think that they are prepared.
"We know what to expect, and we know we're going up against a good team and we can't underestimate them," Anderson said. "The confidence level's high but we're still wary that any game can be our last."