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2010: A look back at a state championship

File photo by Steve Muscatello Members of the New Ulm Cathedral football team celebrate after they defeated Barnesville in the Class A State Championship football game Friday, November 26, 2010 in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. It was the Greyhounds’ first-ever state championship in football.

NEW ULM — New Ulm Cathedral football coach Denny Lux had coached in many big games before the 2010 season, including the 2006 state championship game in which his team lost to Rushford-Peterson.

But in 2010, everything came together for Lux and the Cathedral program, even with a few interesting sprinkles along the way. The Greyhounds won their first-ever state championship that year, but had to do so after starting quarterback Kevin Larson broke his collarbone.

Lux, who helped turn the Cathedral football program around, got his state title after a wild finish against Minneota in the semifinals and then defeated Barnesville 19-13 in the championship game.

The Greyhounds at one time appeared in the section championship game 11 out of 12 years. They won the section championship in 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2014 and they were runners up in 2004, 2005, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Ten years later, Lux and a few of the players reflected on that 2010 season and they are hoping to get together this year for a reunion.

File photo by Steve Muscatello Members of the New Ulm Cathedral football team celebrate their 34-33 state semifinal win over Minneota on Saturday, November 20 at the Metrodome.

Because of the high number of players, Lux and defensive co-ordinator John Miheve had the luxury of using one-way players, which is rare for Class A football. While the Greyhounds players were relatively fresh late in game, the same couldn’t be said of the opponent. That, and Lux said there was plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Lux knew early on that the Greyhounds had something special going.

“We were getting such good practices, we were going up against good players in practice and of course that led to the success on game nights,” Lux said. “The big part of that team though, really was their maturity. The leadership of those seniors, they just kept that team on the level. We never noticed the guys getting too excited after a win or the next day at school, you wouldn’t even know that they won a big ball game.”

The Greyhounds opened with a loss at home against Springfield (21-7) in what was a valuable learning experience for the team. Lux said that they struggled and there was plenty of disappointment after that loss to their Southern Minnesota Conference rivals.

“We didn’t play very well at all and we didn’t play very well on a couple of key spots on offense,” Lux said. “I remember some of the coaches saying that there were people leaving the game after the game, saying it might be an average year. The fans kind of felt letdown. Even when I exchanged film with the next team that we were playing, I remember that coach saying that we didn’t play well against Springfield.

“I think people for a split second had overlooked us,” Lux said. “We got some things straightened out and the maturity stepped up, the seniors needed to bring their game up and instead of dropping their head and sulking about it, they practiced harder and harder and we started rolling.”

Staff photo by Steve Muscatello New Ulm Cathedral’s Aaron Pfaff stretches to get the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the Greyhounds’ Class A State Tournament win against Minneota Saturday, November 20, 2010 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

The Greyhounds were led in the backfield by Aaron Pfaff, Nick Simon, Nate Hauser and Larson at quarterback. That combination of speed and power in the run game made it difficult on the opposing defense, especially later in the game.

“Physically we had size and we were fast and we were strong,” Lux said. “In all of those years before and after that team, we went to the SDSU [South Dakota State University] team camp and they would put us up against 5A schools because they knew that we could hold our own.

“For Kevin, he understood sports at a very early age so I could lead that team and of course in the backfield with Simon and Hauser and Pfaff, these guys all had speed and they had smarts, we were just fortunate that it all came together with a bunch of seniors and juniors at the same time.”

Pfaff remembered there was a lot of senior leadership on that team.

“Leadership, we had plenty of it and at my time it was a tradition where we had a ton of guys out every class where we’d have a lot of seniors,” Pfaff said. “We had a lot of seniors and pleny of juniors who played too. We could play one way and focus on one side of the ball which I think helped in our success, too.”

Defensively they were led by Brandon Berg, who was the All-Journal Defensive Player of the Year. The defense was solid all season and it proved tough to score on.

“With Brandon Berg and Luke Herzog and Dan Simon, he started a little bit as a freshman for us and he was a dominant player his junior and senior year,” Lux said. “We had Evan Walterman, another defensive end with Brandon Berg, our front four were athletic and strong and they could fight off blocks.”

Once the playoffs rolled around, the Greyhounds avenged their only loss of the season and knocked off Springfield to get to the state tournament. As the year progressed, the Greyhounds became more of a passing team. Against Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City in the state quarterfinals, Larson threw for 125 yards and then backed that up by throwing for 222 yards against Minneota in the state semifinals.

“We definitely did change a little bit once we got to the state tournament, a little bit more did fall on my shoulders,” Larson said. “Just being ready, we didn’t do anything different than we did all year as far as plays, it was just more passing plays. It wasn’t just me, guys were getting open, the line was doing a good job, it was definitely exciting, a different feel than what Cathedral football had done, especially in the years prior.”

In the game against Minneota, the Greyhounds trailed by a couple of touchdowns for most of the game, but they eventually got to within one point of the Vikings after a late touchdown. Faced with a decision of kicking it to tie the game or go for two for a chance to win the game, Larson wanted to go for two. The Greyhounds went for it all and used a new play they had just put in the playbook a few days prior to that game. It worked when Larson found Simon on a pass in the end zone to give the Greyhounds a 34-33 lead they wouldn’t surrender.

“We practiced it once or twice the day before in the snow at Johnson Park,” Lux said. “It was a two-point play that we had used back when [current assistant coach] Jesse Nosbush had played like in the 2000 season. This is where these kids are so smart because now we’re on the biggest stage of their high school career and we’ve got to make this play work that we’ve only practiced twice. Kevin made a heck of a throw and Nick Simon caught the ball in the end zone, the athleticism, the confidence and the smarts. Kevin came over and everybody was thinking that I made the call and I asked Kevin and he said ‘we gotta go for two.'”

It was a play that Larson still looks back on to this day.

“It’s one of those things that you don’t forget, it was one of those things where I went to the sideline and I looked at him [Lux] and he looked at me, and we said that we need to go for it,” Larson said. “It was one of those specialty plays for a situation like that, I think Denny always said he didn’t want it to come down to one person, one person making an extra point. He would rather put it on the whole team. We obviously executed and found Nick there standing in the middle. It’s one of those plays that you’ll never forget.”

The Greyhounds made one last stop and moved on to the title game against Barnesville, a game where Larson broke his collarbone right before halftime and Simon took over at quarterback. The Greyhounds held the lead at halftime and hung on to win their first state title.

“Barnesville had lost to Minneota in the semifinals the year before and something was telling us that they were a little overconfident because Minneota was out of the picture,” Lux said. “They were averaging over 50 points a game up there up north and they had a really good misdirection offense and they had a really solid defense. But I don’t believe they were quite prepared for us mentally and physically because all of a sudden things weren’t going as easy for them.”

The Greyhounds got the lead early and used ball control to hold on.

It was a special time for the players and the coaching staff. Lux and Miheve had been there through the bad years and the good years, so the championship was extra special.

“I remember having lunches with coach Lux and talks with coach Lux about football, it never stopped and it was year around,” Larson said. “It was awesome to see him finally achieve that goal and I just remember hugging him after the game, it was a relief after all of those years of pushing forward and how hard he works. There’s so many guys that play Cathedral football, he makes everyone feel welcome from if you’re the starting quarterback to the last freshman on the team. He makes you feel important, and that’s always a credit to him.”

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