Before the Osakis football team went on to win the 2019 Section 6AA title, it suffered a setback in week one against Browerville-Eagle Valley. This year, the Silverstreaks are hoping Friday's 28-14 loss to Morris-Area-Chokio-Alberta serves the same purpose.
Osakis (2-1) went into the University of Minnesota-Morris riding high after dominating Holdingford (1-2) and Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (1-3). However, MCA (5-0) posed a more formidable challenge. The undefeated Tiger's have rolled through the regular season behind their stout trench play and athleticism at their skill positions. The Section 5AA favorites broke off several big scoring plays to put the Silverstreaks in unfamiliar territory.
"I think we came off two wins with too big of heads," senior Isaac Hetland said. "We came into this game sleeping, thinking we were going to beat them. That was it. We got to play in the big stadium, and I think we were a little shell shocked. We have a young team, and they took us by surprise. As the game went on, I think we played more physical than them and moved the ball fine. We came out unprepared. We are going to come back and be better as a team."
Osakis hadn't trailed through its first 96 minutes of football this season, but it only took 31 seconds for MCA's Durgin Decker to break off a 51-yard touchdown run. The Silverstreaks drove the ball down the field in their first offensive possession but turned the ball over on downs in the red zone. It was the first of two empty red zone trips for Osakis in the first half.
"Morris has a lot of talent up front, and they got some big stops when they needed them," Osakis head coach Bill Infanger said. "This is one of the best teams we're going to play all year, and it was a good measuring stick for us. I think we made some mental mistakes at times, and that's just what happens with a young team."
MCA had a chance to extend its lead on its second drive, but the Osakis defense stood tall with a fourth-and-goal stand. Despite never holding a lead, the Osakis defense played well enough to keep the game competitive.
"We find ways to keep ourselves pumped up," Hetland said. "We keep ourselves going, pat each other on the back and stay focused. It shows the heart of this team to come up with goal-line stands like that."
Osakis had a chance to take the lead late in the second quarter. On Fourth-and-goal from the four-yard line, Hetland was stuffed short of the end zone. The Silverstreaks went into halftime empty-handed and trailing 6-0.
Where MCA started to expose Osakis was in the passing game. Late in the third quarter, quarterback Zach Bruns heaved a deep ball to Kenny Soderberg for a 51-yard touchdown connection. Osakis made two mistakes in the first three quarters. However, both of them ended up on the scoreboard.
"We're really young at the defensive back positions, and we're down a couple of guys with some injuries," Infanger said. "There's going to be a lot of work in practice preparing for that. We have Paynesville coming up next, and they like to sling it around as well. We have our work cut out for us with our secondary."
Osakis marched down the field on its next drive. Hetland, who had been kept out of the end zone all night, finally got in to cut MCA's lead to 14-6. With 10:13 left to go, Osakis had the momentum.
The ensuing kickoff turned the game on its head. Kick returner Ethan Lebrija bobbled the ball before breaking a tackle and getting free. He regained the Tiger's two-score lead with 10 minutes remaining.
"Credit to him for making our guys miss," Infanger said. "I thought we were in the right lanes on that kickoff, but the play kind of broke down and he got free. That was really the big play of the game. We thought we had the momentum with our defense going out there to try and get us the ball back. We got burned too many times tonight to hang around against a team like this."
MCA would score again with 5:55 remaining on a four-yard touchdown run from Bruns. Hetland scored his second touchdown of the game with under a minute left, but it was too late.
The score was not indicative of how close the game was by the time the clock ran out. Osakis was able to stay within striking distance behind a good push from its offensive line.
"I trust every single one of the guys in front of me," Hetland said. "I know they're out there fighting for me. They've come a long way so far, and they're going to be a big part of our success this season."
Over the last two seasons, Osakis has rarely been the underdog heading into many games. But after Friday's loss to MCA, their young roster is going to have to find a way to bounce back against a good Paynesville (4-1) team in the regular-season finale.
"A lot of people thought we were the underdog because we lost so many guys," Hetland said. "That's why we are playing so hard because these guys want to prove themselves. We need to focus on learning from our mistakes. We hurt ourselves tonight, and we want to come back stronger. When we come back on Monday, this will be a blessing in disguise. We know we are better than what we showed tonight."
With three games under their belts, the Silverstreaks have their sights set on another Section 6AA title. Infanger is hoping to grow from this loss and turn it into momentum heading into the postseason.
"We have to continue to get better and prepare for a good Paynesville team next week before we see what seed we get," Infanger said. "With the shortened season and everything playing out as it is, I don't think there's anybody left that's undefeated in our section. In a crazy year, where we knew we were only going to get four regular-season games, we knew we had to learn fast. We talked about how there's going to be bumps in the road, but ultimately our goal is to bring home another section championship."