Unbeaten rivals meet for the Class A title
WABASSO — It seems like a matchup that was destined to happen once the Class A state tournament bracket was set.
Unbeaten Wabasso (13-0) and Minneota (13-0) will face off for the Class A state title game at 10 a.m. on Saturday at US Bank Stadium. The schools, separated by about 50 miles, have met several times over the last few years in various sports. The Rabbits and Vikings have met three times on the football field since the 2015 season, with the Vikings winning the first two before the Rabbits getting some revenge in the Section 5A semifinals last year on their way to the state semifinals.
While the two were once Section 5A rivals, it seemed like the two were eventually going to meet in the state title game with their similar physical styles of play.
“I think that possibility was there, nobody wanted to talk about it,” said Wabasso coach Joe Kemp, who is coaching in his first state championship game after leading the Rabbits to the semifinals four times since 2005. “I think that people realized that it was a good possibility that we were going to meet. We had to maintain focus throughout the year, we always talk about winning each play. We’re 13 games in but it seemed like it went fast.”
Both the Rabbits and Vikings are no stranger to success in football and neither are they strangers to each other. That familiarity could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how one chooses to look at it.
“I don’t know, they’re familiar with us, we’re familiar with them, we’ve played three times in the last two years, so it’s hard to tell,” Kemp said.
Kemp said that both teams are successful for a number of reasons and the programs are very similar off the field.
“If you look at the two communities, there’s tremendous support of the kids,” Kemp said. “They have an excellent coaching staff, they’re on board with their weight lifting and what it takes for the kids to be successful. I have a lot of respect for the coaching staff over there.”
He said that Minneota is a program he has always had a lot of respect for.
“If you look over the last few years, we’ve had a lot of great battles in girls basketball and we’ve had a lot of battles in the section tournaments, wrestling and now football, so you can say there’s a lot of respect and we kind of model after each other,” he said.
The Rabbits’ offense features Cooper Taylor, who has rushed for 2,070 yards and 35 touchdowns. He also has two receiving touchdowns and 323 yards receiving.
On the Vikings side of the ball, the Rabbits must stop quarterback dual threat senior running back Isaac Hennen. Hennen has 1,553 yards rushing and 876 yards receiving on the season. He also has 24 rushing touchdowns and 10 receiving scores.
The Vikings move the ball well both on the ground and through the air. Quarterback Alex Pohlen has passed for 2,410 yards and 34 touchdowns. Thomas Hennen has 11 receiving touchdowns (809 yards). Cole Sanow has also hit the century mark on the ground with 1,045 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns.
Kemp said that his team must stop Pohlen and Hennen, who both are capable of taking over a game.
“The ball’s going to revolve around those two so we’re going to have to stop them,” Kemp said. “You have two teams that are evenly matched and you have to not turn the ball over and convert in the red zone. Defensively you have find ways to get off the field.”
While both teams feature elite defenses, they both can also put points on the board.
“You don’t know how it’s going to pan out,” Kemp said. “Last year in Minneota [in the playoffs] the teams butted heads and then once we figured everything out, once we got going it turned into a shootout in the end. It’s now that we’re nervous, it’s just knowing that this game could turn over on a dime. A good defensive battle can turn real quickly.”