For the third consecutive year, the Osakis football team went head-to-head with the Pillager Huskies on the final day of the Section 6AA football season. However, this time a section title wasn't on the line.
The Silverstreaks beat the Huskies 34-12 just hours before Minnesota's newest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect. With the season-ending amid the section tournament, it was the final ride of the season for both teams regardless of the outcome.
"We had nothing to lose," Osakis junior Carter Watnaas said. "The seniors got cheated this year, and they worked so hard. We wanted to give them something to remember in their final game. They never complained, and we just followed their lead, and it led us straight to here."
Osakis started Friday afternoon's game at Alexandria Area High School as they did in each of their three wins this season. On their opening drive, the Silverstreaks pounded the run leading to an Isaac Hetland touchdown.
On Pillager's first drive of the game, Brock Faber made a critical fourth-down tackle in the backfield to force a three-and-out. It was one of the numerous senior moments the Osakis veterans shared on Friday.
"Brock was a solid kid on last year's team, and he probably didn't get a lot of recognition because of all the seniors we had," Osakis head coach Bill Infanger said. "He came back this year and was a leader on both sides of the ball. He knows how to have fun while working hard. He brings our practice level up and our game level up. It's not just because of the type of football player he is, but it's the type of person he is that elevates this group."
After the Huskies got the ball back, senior lineman Waylon Muenzhuber picked off Blake Clark in the first of four Osakis interceptions on the day.
"Waylon is a great kid," Infanger said. "He's been in the weight room a ton over the last three or four years. I also get to coach him in baseball, so I know what kind of skill position guy he is. For a lineman, he actually has pretty good hands. He plays first base for us in baseball, and he's pretty good with the bat. He's got the hand-eye coordination, so to see him make plays like that might surprise some people, but we know he's capable of that."
On the ensuing possession, Hetland scored his second touchdown of the game from eight yards out. It only took a matter of seconds for the Silverstreaks to get the ball back as Blake Rousslang successfully booted an onside kick. On the next play, quarterback Bauer Klimek threw a deep ball to Watnaas for a 43-yard gain.
"(Pillager) kept looking inside because of our amazing running backs," Watnaas said. "It opened up our passing game. To see that ball flying towards me was an amazing feeling. There's nothing better than getting a shot like that as a receiver."
Klimek ran in a quarterback keeper to make it a 22-0 game midway through the second quarter, but Pillager responded on its next drive. After a fourth-down hook-and-ladder play on a fake punt to keep the drive alive, Hunter Gjovik punched in Pillager's first touchdown of the game.
With under two minutes left before halftime, Osakis decided to show its versatility on offense. Klimek led a dink-and-dunk offense down the field before finding Watnaass on a long completion at the one-yard line. Hetland's third touchdown of the game gave Osakis a 28-6 lead at the half.
The Huskies would score once more midway through the third quarter, but a 28-yard touchdown run by Duncan Vandergon put the game on ice. The second-seeded Silverstreaks finished the season 3-2 by knocking off the 6AA third-seed.
"It was a crazy week," Infanger said. "It started on Monday when we found out that something was going to happen with the Governor and COVID-19 closures. As a team, we felt like a cloud was hanging over our heads. We thought our season might end with our heads hanging in the locker room after a practice and us not being able to play another game. To find out we were going to end the week playing one last game as a team meant so much to us. This is the game we love, and it was the right way to end this."
The Silverstreaks had every reason to roll over and quit this fall. Not only did their season start with a two-week quarantine, an unplayable home field and a head coach in the hospital as Infanger went through surgery to donate a kidney, but the last two weeks of the regular season showed their youth. After getting gashed through the air by Morris Area-Chokio-Alberta and Paynesville, Osakis bounced back to finish on a high note.
"They handled it like champs," Infanger said. "They came in this year and played with confidence, which is exactly what we needed them to do in a year like this. I hope this is the weirdest year we will ever have. We miss playing on our home field in front of our fans. I'm so proud of how these guys, especially the seniors, handled all of the adversity this season. They didn't hang their heads once. They showed up to work and made the most of every opportunity."
Osakis said goodbye to another impactful senior class, but the returning players are looking to come back even hungrier.
"These seniors taught us so much," Watnaas said. "We can't take anything for granted after a year like this. We know how important it is to put in the time when nobody is looking. I tell you what, after these four weeks when we can get back in the school, that weight room is going to be packed because we have work to do."