The Delano Tigers have had as much of a rollercoaster fall 2020 as any team in the state.
A full-team quarantine after the Tigers’ season opener against Willmar kept them out of play for two weeks. Beating Big Lake and losing to Rocori in consecutive weeks felt like a nudge back toward normalcy in the schedule. Then Sauk Rapids-Rice cancelled their matchup with Delano Nov. 11, leaving the Tigers to wait for just their fourth game in 41 days, a 30-12 loss to Princeton on the road in the Section 6AAAA semifinals Nov. 20. They did not escape quarantine unscathed either, missing multiple players that hurt their depth.
A fast start for Delano offensively on a first-drive Cade Bruett touchdown pass gave some hope that they’d find a rhythm after another two weeks off. Princeton answered right away with a deep connection score of their own, and the score was 7-6 Princeton in less than two minutes.
After that, Delano struggled to string together first downs. A couple first-half turnovers allowed Princeton to maintain advantageous field position, including a fumble recovery in the Delano end zone for a touchdown. The lack of time on the field together this season played a role in the outcome, but Delano coach Merrill Pavlovich knows that he’s also got a young team, including his sophomore quarterback Bruett — a 6-foot-3 physical specimen who played just his fourth career varsity game against a one-loss, athletic Princeton team.
“It’s been up and down, we haven’t had a full squad since day one,” Pavlovich said postgame. “Tonight we got beat by a better team, no question about it.”
The on-again, off-again style forced upon teams like Delano this season is a hard pill to swallow when there could have been a much different outcome in a normal full-length schedule. The Tigers were State Tournament representatives in 2018 and 2019. The path to more games was tough with the entire team out of commission for two weeks and few teams in Delano’s relative geographic area in need of another contest.
“Our seniors have worked really hard to get here,” Pavlovich said. “We haven’t lost the section in 3 years. But our depth and inexperience showed tonight against a better team.”
Bright spots in the final game before the state-wide high school sports pause included Mike Krueger, a junior wide receiver, who caught a handful of quick passes to move the chains throughout the night and scored a touchdown late to finish the game on a positive offensive note. Bruett threw three interceptions, but has a strong lefty arm that is sure to become more accurate in the next couple years. Senior wide receiver/safety Trey Longstreet grabbed an interception in the first half on defense as well.
Delano concludes the season with a 1-3 record, a total that just looks very out of place based on historical competitiveness and the fact that a four-game season is hard to picture in any scenario. Next year, hopefully, will be more reliable — and the Tigers return many players who got good experience in a challenging 2020.