Coming into the game Friday night, Owatonna was running over the competition on the way to a 6-0 start and a No. 1 ranking in AAAAA. The undefeated record and number one ranking both ended when the seventh-ranked Northfield Raiders completed a 90-yard drive with a touchdown with 18 seconds to play to defeat the Huskies 21-17.
Northfield's defense had a great game plan to slow down the explosive Huskies' offense. Owatonna's offense runs best when running back Jason Williamson is running the ball. His great feet and speed were the attributes that stood out among his many talents on the football field.
“He is a great athlete first of all,” Northfield head coach Bubba Sullivan said. “He has speed, he can lower his shoulder, can catch the ball. He is a great weapon.”
Sometimes Williamson – NFN fourth-ranked junior – lines up at wide receiver and has good hands out of the backfield and in the slot. He caught a slant pass for a first down and then caught a pass in the flat he turned into a 25-yard touchdown with under 30 seconds to play in the first half.
Williamson is also a capable blocker. Although he did lose a fumble, it was easy to see why he had ridiculous numbers through the first six games.
“Jason Williamson is a great athlete,” Northfield linebacker Alex Rasmussen said. “We scouted him pretty well, and the coaches came up with a great game plan.”
The offensive line – especially in the first half – was solid across the board. Both teams moved the ball in the first half between the 20s but would shoot themselves in the foot with penalties – including the Huskies' offensive line.
Early in the game, Owatonna ran behind center Dylan Meier and the two guards Andy Jensen and Zach Wiese. Later Wiese and Brody Veach sprung Williamson on two straight outside runs.
Owatonna quarterback Abe Havelka was most effective underneath, but early in the game, he showed his arm strength. On third-and-20, the Huskies converted on a deep ball down the sidelines to Dalton Kubista. In the second and third quarters, Havelka – ranked 267th by NFN – got into a good rhythm going with his short throws.
His primary receiver – Noah Budach – caught a lot of balls on crossing routes. He did have two big drops, but on a slant broke a tackle and made three defenders miss. Later he caught a deep out on the sidelines during the two-minute drill in the first half that ended in a touchdown. In the second half, the 187th-ranked senior caught a deep post for 30 yards. He scored the Huskies' second touchdown on a 52-yard catch and run. He caught a pass up the sidelines and used his speed to get down the sidelines and into the end zone.
Alex Raichle also contributed in the passing game. On a fourth and 5, he caught an out pattern on the sidelines to pick up a first down. During the two-minute touchdown drive late in the first half, Raichle – who we rank 36th in the 2018 class — picked up another first down on a throw to the outside.
The defenses – on both sides of the ball – was the real story of the game of the two undefeated teams.
Linebacker Cole Rocha filled the hole and made a tackle for a short loss. Against the Northfield option, Rocha saved a touchdown with an open field shoelace tackle. On a blitz, he got good pressure on the quarterback and forced an errant throw.
Zach Mensink blitzed and tracked down the quarterback on a rollout for a sack. Later he combined with Mitch Wiese to stop a run for a short gain. Mensink stuffed a run in the middle of the field. He blitzed again and forced the quarterback up into the pocket. He didn't get the initial sack, but the 254th ranked senior kept coming and still got the sack. Late in the game, he made another tackle on the inside for a short gain.
Ben Zappa made a tackle by closing down from the outside linebacker position to the inside. Later he played Northfield's option well. He stuck with the running back and forced the quarterback into defensive end Joseph Stransky where he made the tackle for loss.
Stransky and his two defensive line partners not only helped the linebackers roam, but they also made plays at the line of scrimmage.
Chris Lewis got off double teams and was a factor in the running game freeing up the linebackers and making a handful of tackles – including a tackle for loss.
NFN’s 245rd ranked senior, Kadyn Mulert, was hard to handle at defensive end. First, he made a tackle for a short gain. Most impressively he read a middle screen and peeled back to make the tackle for a short gain. Mulert also filled in at offensive tackle for some series in the second half.
For three and a half quarters the Huskies defensive backs were solid in both the passing and running games.
Parker Westphal covered a fade route one on one perfectly, and he tightly covered a corner route. Twice Northfield ran a reverse to Westphal, and twice he stayed at home and made an open field tackle – one of the tackles saved a touchdown. Westphal later teamed with Tucker Alstead to bracket a receiver downfield.
Williamson is not just one of the top offensive players in the state. He is also a solid safety in the Huskies' defense. He came across the field to cover a deep out from his deep safety position He was step for step with a receiver on a deep pass in the middle.
Matt Segler made an open field tackle to prevent a first down. Segler and Wiese were both solid in coverage – especially on downfield throws.
Although not one of the best-played games I have seen, Friday night's game was a treat to watch. It was a battle between two great teams that if one or two plays go the Huskies way Owatonna would have won. On the flip side if a play or two flips to Northfield wouldn't have needed a dramatic last-second drive to win.