By BRAD SALMEN
Throughout the first half of DC’s 10-7 Section 2AAAA semifinal victory over Marshall Saturday, public address announcer Mike Lhotka elicited murmurs throughout the crowd with his updates of the other section semifinal game between #4 seed Waseca and #1 Hutchinson.
Through one half, the Blue Jays hung tough with the Huskies, as the teams entered the break through 24 minutes.
Those murmurs turned into gasps, however, in the second half.
The Blue Jays scored 28 unanswered points in the second half, and scored a big upset with a 48-20 victory over the Huskies who were not just the top-seeded, but top-ranked team in all of Class AAAA.
With DC defeating Marshall, this meant two things for DC fans:
1. They would not have to face Hutchinson, a team that has been a playoff thorn in their side for decades, and
2. They would now have a home playoff game for the Section Final, to be held Friday at DC.
What this did not mean, however, is that the Chargers would be facing an easy go against a team that punched above their weight and got lucky.
Quite the opposite.
As DC head coach Ryan Weinandt put it, “Waseca will be the best team we’ve faced all year.”
The Waseca Blue Jays (8-2) are by in no means a fluke.
Waseca lost twice during the regular season: to Marshall at home, 19-18, and on the road at #5AAA Fairmont, 25-21.
The Blue Jays dominated #8AAA Jordan (who beat Marshall) 42-15, before dominating #1AAAA Hutchinson Saturday.
“They are a very physical and athletic team,” said Weinandt. “Offensively, their offensive line is big and athletic, they have a QB that can run and throw well, their fullback and halfback are very good, and they have two wide receivers on the outside that look like they are about 6-3.
“Defensively, they have some big and physical interior defensive linemen and fase defensive ends,” he continued. “They controlled the line of scrimmage in the second half against Hutch. Their linebackers move and tackle well, and their DBs are good in coverage and play the run well.”
Ian Srp, Sports Editor of the Waseca County News, has covered the Blue Jays all season long.
He sent the following report on players to watch for the game:
QB: Hunter Rodgriguez (900 yards passing, 706 yards rushing, over 7 yards per carry). Amazing blend of running and passing ability, can occasionally be off, but one of his two abilities will shine at the very least.
RB: Joe Hagen (74-435) and Hayden Groll (36-262). Kind of a lightning/thunder combo. Hagen can bowl you over, but that’s really more of Groll’s game. They both relish contact.
WR: Willingham brothers Malik (25-464) and Kyreese (11-221). Both are standout basketball players, and can jump out of the gym.
On defense, Srp said the line is the biggest strength. Sophomore DE Marcus Hansen is built like a house, and was easily the most disruptive force against Hutchinson, while DE Andrew Morgan is 6-9 and recorded seven tackles against Hutch.
DLs Matt Olsem and Peyton Hoehn, meanwhile, are great at clogging up the middle.
Their linebacker corps is fast, and relish contact. Groll led the Jays with 16 tackles against Hutchinson.
In the secondary, M. Willingham got beat twice early in the game against Hutchinson, but rebounded in the second half with two interceptions. “Noone outjumps this kid,” said Srp.
Srp said Waseca tends to be run-dominant (indeed, the Blue Jays amassed 2,237 yards on the ground, to 900 in the air).
However, “the fun part about this team is that if their opponent can stop the run, they’re comfortable working the secondary with Rodriguez and the Willingham brothers,” said Srp.
Coach Weinandt said he is thrilled that the team will behosting a home section final, the first since 2010.
“Our fans have been great all season, and we’re excited to be in this game, and to have it played at our home field,” Weinandt said. “We are excited for the challenge, and I know our boys will be up for it.”
• The 2010 home section final game was against Glencoe-Silver Lake. The Panthers prevailed in that one, 25-21.
• DC last made the state tournament in 1973, the second year of the schools’ combined existence. DC lost in the first round to New Prague. If the Chargers advance Friday, it will be for the first time in 45 years.
• The Chargers’ only other state tournament appearance was one year earlier, in 1972, when they advanced as far as the state finals. DC lost that game to Mountain Iron.