Football: Wildcats aiming for strong start
GOODHUE – If Goodhue hopes to rise to new heights in 2014, it has to start with a strong Week 1.
Last season, the Wildcats opened the season with a heartbreaking 21-20 loss, thanks to Hayfield’s Cole Kruger hauling in a last-minute touchdown pass. Goodhue never seemed to be able to get on track the rest of the 2013 season.
With a young group getting a year older in 2014, head coach Tony Poncelet is hoping the Wildcats can set the tone for the entire season right away.
“Last year we had a couple of heartbreaking losses,” Poncelet said. “Hayfield beat us in the last play of the game. Fillmore Central (in the first round of the Section 1A playoffs), we thought we scored – everybody thought we scored – but they ruled it a fumble at the goal line.
“We lost a couple heartbreakers, but these guys have worked hard to overcome that.”
A big part of that regrouping effort will come from the team’s 16 returning letter winners, including 10 returning juniors. Poncelet said that experience allowed the Wildcats to go deeper into their playbook in the first week of practice.
“We can tell that our strong sophomore class turned into a pretty good junior class,” said senior fullback/linebacker Logan Breuer. “They came a long ways. Last year, there were some injuries and some mental stuff that they didn’t have down in games, but they’ve come a long ways since.”
Among that group of juniors on the offensive end are running back Garett Huemann (236 rushing yards, two touchdowns last year), receiver Sam McNamara (19 catches, 379 yards, three touchdowns) and quarterback Jacob Pasch. Last year’s starting quarterback, Tyler Schumacher, will play out his senior year at wide receiver.
“(Pasch is) an athlete. He’s the kind of player you want the ball in his hands on every down. He can turn nothing into something; he’s a playmaker,” Poncelet said. “Playing Schumacher at wideout gives him another weapon out there. So far, it’s been good, but we haven’t started a game this way yet. On paper it looks really good.”
Meanwhile, Garett is the third different Huemann to start at tailback in the last three seasons. Dillon Huemann ran for 814 yards and 11 total touchdowns in 2012, while Riley Huemann was the team’s top back in 2013 with 531 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
“You feel some pressure,” Garett said about following in his brothers’ footsteps, “but I’ve had a lot of experience to try and get to this point.”
Breuer said that while Riley was more of a power runner, Garett’s quickness “changes our offense a little bit; we won’t be packing it in and running downhill. We might spread it around a little bit, with some more quick stuff.”
Adding to that challenge is a line that brings back just one starter in senior Chuck Dahling. But while piecing a blocking unit together last season, several of this year’s linemen now come in with some varsity experience.
“I don’t think we started the same offensive line twice (last year),” Poncelet said. “We had strep throat, concussions, you name it. A lot of these guys got battle tested. … There’s competition for positions (on the offensive line).”
When the Wildcats were at their best last year, it was a result of the defense. In Goodhue’s three wins, the team gave up six points per game.
“Our defense got stronger every week last year, and I think that was a lot of our guys settling down and knowing their assignments,” Poncelet said. “Now, coming into camp, they can pick up where they left off.”
Huemann, who comes back at linebacker, said that while the team lost some big hitters, the team’s emphasis has been on becoming sure tacklers.
“We weren’t the best at wrapping up (last year), so we’ve been working on that lately,” said Huemann, who had 63 tackles last year. “We’ve been doing form tackling every practice, and at the Southwest (Minnesota State) camp we went to, we were in full pads.”
With impact defenders like Austin Buck (63 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four sacks) and Riley Huemann (90 tackles) gone, the focus again falls on the team’s athleticism.
“We’re going to be a quick team that’s not going to get beat over the top,” Breuer said.
Schumacher returns as the team’s top defensive back after accounting for three interceptions and a fumble recovery to go with 43 tackles.
“We lost a couple of good D-backs, and they were good leaders out there,” Schumacher said. “But we got a strong junior class that has some good corners coming up.”
With some of the growing pains hopefully behind the Wildcats, the goal is to get a victory in their Zero Week game at Southern Football Alliance Blue Division foe Wabasha-Kellogg, setting a winning tone along the way.
“It’s going to really set the tone for the rest of the season,” Poncelet said. “All the focus is on Wabasha. They run that spinner offense, and we’ve had more time to prepare for it now.”