MINNEAPOLIS – Mayer Lutheran football coach Dean Aurich has a unique personality when it comes to being afraid of opposing teams. His players are fearless.
Despite falling behind early and giving up the lead right before, there was no panic for the Crusaders as they responded with a dominant second half to lead Mayer Lutheran to their first state championship in program history with a 20-14 win over the Minneota Vikings Friday afternoon.
“That second quarter we were very concerned,” Aurich said. I” kind of have the personality that I’m a little more scared of the team we play than these guys are. These guys are definitely thinking we’re definitely ready for them and we can beat them.”
Mayer Lutheran’s players proved just that. After retaking the lead on a 6-yard run by Cole Neitzel in which he carried half the defense, that only fired up the defense the rest of the way.
“He’s really physical,” Ty Hoese said about Neitzel. “He plays hard and he loves football. That gets all of us pumped up.”
“I think it showed that we’re not scared of them,” Elijah Jopp added. “We’ll go out there and hit them just as hard as they hit us. That just got us going the rest of the way.”
Following the go-ahead score, Mayer Lutheran forced three-straight three and outs defensively, taking the ball out of Minneota’s hands. The Vikings came into the matchup averaging more than 40 points per game.
“Coach Zupke should be up here,” Aurich said. “He put together an awesome game plan. He did a great job.”
“I think we were a little bit bigger and more physical than they thought we were,” Hoese added. “We knew we had to stop the run and we did that. Coach Zupke put together a great game plan and we just tried to execute it as best we could.”
The Crusaders would hold the Vikings scoreless in the second half, holding them to a season-low 14 points on their way to winning their first state title in program history.
“We’ve been working for this for a long time,” Hoese said. “We’ve had a lot of dreams about this. Now it finally came true so it feels great.”
The journey to a state championship began before the season even began. After going undefeated last season but not getting the chance to finish off the season, this year was all about unfinished business for the Crusaders.
“I’m sure our seniors from last year are wishing they could be here,” Aurich said. “It really did start last year. That team probably would have pushed this one. I’m not saying we could have won it all but I think we could have given it a good (run).”
Both Mayer Lutheran and Minneota have dominated their opponents all season long. They both knew this one would be different coming into it.
“I call that a grinder,” Aurich said. “We didn’t have one yet this year. This was one and they came through really well with it.”
They did indeed. After losing their first game of the season, the Crusaders rattled off 13-straight wins on their way to winning the state title. With 16 seniors on this year’s team, it’s a special feeling for them knowing that goal became a reality on the state’s biggest stage.
“It’s super special to go out like this,” Jopp said. “It’s just an awesome feeling.”
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports