As snow piled up Tuesday, postponing the start of many winter athletic seasons, it offered an opportunity to reflect on the success that two area high school teams enjoyed this fall.
The most recent was the storybook season of the Pillager Huskies football team, reaching the Class 1A state championship game at the Metrodome, only to lose to McLeod West and all-time state rushing leader Tyler Evans.
The job that head coach Pete Bothun and fiery defensive coordinator Jim Bentson have done in three seasons at Pillager has to rank as one of the best turnarounds in the state. Before Bothun and Bentson arrived in the fall of 1999, the Huskies had three head coaches in the previous three seasons and a composite record of 6-19, including 0-9 in 1998.
Many of this season's Pillager seniors suffered through that winless season as freshmen and were sophomores on Bothun's 1-8 team in the fall of 1999. They obviously, not only learned from those seasons, but were determined to improve upon them.
The Huskies improved to 8-4 last year, losing in the quarterfinals of their first state appearance. They came back this season with a vengeance and a bevy of talent, won 11 of 13 games and put Pillager on the state's football map.
The Huskies were one of the most determined teams I have seen. Even though they run the wishbone, a ball-control, rushing offense, they rallied to win the Section 6 championship game against Bertha-Hewitt and fought back to beat Osakis in the state semifinals.
Their resolve endured in the state championship game. Pillager rallied from 6-0, 14-6 and 22-14 deficits to tie the contest on each occasion. Running behind their offensive line, who have dubbed themselves the "Fat Boys," the Huskies unleashed bruising fullback Steve Bethel and pounded away at McLeod West.
Even though the Huskies fell shy of the title, they demonstrated the grit of state champions. They have restored confidence and credibility in Pillager athletics. Opponents playing the Huskies, in any sport, no longer will consider them an easy win.
Staples-Motley rules in
cross country running
The Staples-Motley Cardinals cross country running team is another remarkable fall program. The S-M boys won their fifth Class 1A state title in six years this fall. The girls' team finished third in its first state appearance.
Cardinals head coach Gene Mattila has done a sensational job. He is one of the most driven coaches I know. He doesn't accept anything less than excellence.
Mattila guided S-M to four straight boys' state titles beginning in 1996 and tutored three individual state champions from 1997-99. That kind of dominance doesn't occur frequently in high school sports.
Mattila is no stranger to excellence. In the mid-1980s, he was defensive coordinator of the Esko football team. In one of his seasons, the Eskomos allowed 117 total yards but lost in the section championship game. They gave up one touchdown all season, on special teams.
Wrestling has been one of the most prosperous sports in the lakes area for decades. That apparently won't change this winter as Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale appears poised to return to state for the fourth consecutive season and Wadena-Deer Creek for the third straight year.
W-DC is ranked second in Class 2A by the Guillotine, Minnesota's Amateur Wrestling Newspaper. B-H-V is ranked fifth in Class 1A and Little Falls in 3A and Pierz in 1A are teams to watch.
In addition, 21 area wrestlers are ranked in the top 10 of their weight classes.
Defending state champions Leland Brincefield (119) and Logan Brincefield (125), both of W-DC, and heavyweight Josh Bresnahan of Pequot Lakes-Pine River-Backus, are ranked No. 1 in Class 2A.
Class 3A Individual Ratings
112 -- 5-Vince Sellnow, Brainerd
125 -- 8-Travis Brady, LF
135 -- 2-Andy Pickar, Brainerd; 9-Matt Boser, LF
119 -- 1-Leland Brincefield, W-DC
125 -- 1-Logan Brincefield, W-DC
135 -- 2-Peter Hayes, W-DC; 10-Cameron Sharp, C-I
145 -- 3-Kyle Trout, W-DC
160 -- 9-Kyle Bender, Aitkin
189 -- 4-Darik Lamke, Aitkin
275 -- 1-Josh Bresnahan, PL/PR-B; 8-David Uselman, W-DC
103 -- 3-Joe Hyatt, Pierz
125 -- 4-Trevor Balbach, B-H/V
135 -- 6-Joeb Oyster, B-H/V
140 -- 3-Craig Luberts, Pierz; 4-Cullen Captain, B-H/V
171 -- 9-Dan Britz, Pierz
189 -- 7-Adam Becker, B-H/V
275 -- 5-Casey Finck, B-H/V
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