The Minnewaska football team punched its ticket to the second round of the Section 6AAA tournament behind a big night from their star running back. Tyson Meyer ran for three touchdowns as third-seeded Minnewaska (3-3) advanced to the semifinal round with a 35-19 win over sixth-seeded Melrose (2-5).
The Lakers got out to a great start on defense by forcing three Dutchmen fumbles on their first three possessions. The first two Melrose turnovers led to a touchdown run from Meyer and a scoring pass from Mitchell Gruber to Peyton Johnsrud.
"We have played very opportunistic defense all year, and we preach to our kids how important creating turnovers is for swinging momentum in a game," Lakers' head coach Jeremy Christensen said. "We were able to get some short fields early with those turnovers and were able to put 14 points on the board pretty quickly."
Melrose was able to answer back in the second quarter with a pair of touchdown runs. Meyer got his hands on a point-after-touchdown attempt before the Dutchmen missed a two-point conversion to go into the half trailing 14-12.
While Melrose found ways to close in on Minnewaska's lead, the Lakers never trailed. Meyer scored his second touchdown of the game to put Minnewaska up 21-12. The Dutchmen closed in again midway through the third quarter on a Tyler Rademacher 18-yard touchdown pass to Rowen Nelson, but Meyer found the end zone for the third time on the night.
Meyer had 172 yards rushing on 31 carries.
"I have been fortunate enough to have the privilege to coach several talented running backs during my 14 years as a coach," Christensen said. "And I can say, without hesitation, Tyson is the best all-around back I have coached. His combination of strength, speed and vision make him a very tough player to stop no matter how much attention he is getting from the defense. Tyson would also be the first to tell you how well the guys up front are playing. Our linemen have done a nice job of maintaining blocks to give him and our other ball carriers time to make the right cut into the open hole."
Max Reichmann got in on the action in the fourth quarter to add an insurance score.
Just hours before Tuesday's game, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced that there would likely be a pause on youth and high school sports statewide. With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, football and volleyball are once again in limbo.
"There has been a lot of uncertainty to the entire season, and we have discussed that with our kids on a regular basis," Christensen said. "We had to cancel our regular season finale due to COVID-19, so I think our kids understand that each game could very well be our last no matter what the outcome of a playoff game may be."
The Minnesota State High School League already nixed the idea of state tournaments this fall. Now, the remainder of the section tournaments is in jeopardy. Christensen feels like Tuesday night could be the last game of this season.
"I think, to a certain extent, every game this year has had the feeling that it could be the last time we get to play, and that is why you need to savor each moment," Christensen said.
The Lakers are scheduled to travel to Pierz (7-0) on Saturday for a semifinal matchup at 2 p.m.. In the regular season, the Lakers suffered a 14-6 loss to the Pioneers in a tightly contested game.
"I really felt like we played Pierz very well earlier in the year, and our biggest takeaway from that game was how physical we could play," Christensen said. "We have to bring a high level of physicality into Saturday's game as well. We also have to limit our self-inflicted wounds. We turned the ball over three times in our first match-up, and two of the three came on drives where we were consistently moving the ball. If we can protect the football and be the most physical team on the field for four quarters, I like our chances."
MELROSE 0 12 7 0 - 19
MINNEWASKA 14 0 7 14 - 35
SCORING- FIRST QUARTER- Minnewaska- Tyson Meyer 8-yard TD run (Isaac Koenig PAT); Minnewaska- Mitchell Gruber 2-yard TD pass to Peyton Johnsrud (Koenig PAT good); Melrose- Aaron Amhalt 2-yard TD run (Meyer blocks PAT attempt); SECOND QUARTER- Melrose- 10-yard TD run (two-point conversion no good); THIRD QUARTER- Minnewaska- Meyer 6-yard TD run (Koenig PAT good); Melrose- Tyler Rademacher 15-yard pass to Rowan Nelson (PAT good); Meyer 1-yard TD run (Koenig PAT good); FOURTH QUARTER- Minnewaska- Max Reichmann 23-yard TD run (Koenig PAT good);
TEAM TOTALS- Minnewaska- 17 first downs, 223 rushing yards, 44 passing yards, 59 total plays, 267 total yards, 2 turnovers, 8 penalties for 50 yards, 25:22 time of possession, 7-12 third down, 0-3 fourth down; Melrose- 18 first downs, 171 rushing yards, 113 passing yards, 64 total plays, 284 total yards, 3 turnovers, 2 penalties on 15 yards, 22:38 time of possession, 3-11 first down, 2-6 fourth down;
MINNEWASKA- Passing- Mitchell Gruber 6-7, 51 yards, TD; RUSHING- Jackson Stadsvold 2 carries, 5 yards; Gruber 8 carries, 20 yards; Blake Andreas 1 carry, 12 yards; Aaron Ver Steeg 2 carries, -7 yards; Jacob lien 1 carry, 0 yards; Dalton Friedrichs 1 carry, 1 yard; Tyson Meyer 31 carries, 172 yards, 3 TDs; Max Reichmann 4 carries, 31 yards, TD; RECEIVING- Stadsvold 2 catches, 17 yards; Peyton Johnsrud 1 catch, 18 yards, TD; Gruber 1 catch, 13 yards; Ver Steeg 2 catches, 3 yards