Football: A desire to achieve moreZUMBROTA — Zumbrota-Mazeppa took its lumps last season as a team, which consisted of many first-year varsity players, but this season with a year of experience don’t expect the same from the Cougars.
By: Nick Gerhardt, The Republican Eagle
ZUMBROTA — Zumbrota-Mazeppa took its lumps last season as a team, which consisted of many first-year varsity players, but this season with a year of experience don’t expect the same from the Cougars.
Z-M went 4-4 in the regular season as its inexperience showed, but still reached the section title game for the fourth consecutive year. The Cougars came into the playoffs as a No. 3 seed and knocked off second-seeded Chatfield to make the title game. There, Z-M faced perennial power Caledonia and lost.
Now the Cougars won’t have to worry about Caledonia because they’ve moved up to Section 1AAA as a result of enrollment figures. It’s a good news-bad news situation for Z-M. The Cougars move away from Caledonia but move into a section with schools larger than Z-M.
“We have quite a few kids who played last year so we’ve kind of picked up where we left off last year with the things we’ve been doing,” Z-M head coach Willie Rauen said. “The group of seniors overall is a very good group. They’re pretty intelligent football-wise and they know what’s going on. They’ve been running the same system for four straight years so they’re really comfortable with what we’re doing.”
Rauen has 14 seniors this year and returns seven starters on defense and five on offense. Nathaniel Rauen was slated to take over at quarterback for Zach VanOstrand, who graduated in the spring, but Rauen broke his collarbone Saturday at a scrimmage in Rochester. Rauen saw some time at quarterback last season when VanOstrand got injured, but will miss 6-8 weeks recovering from the injury. Kurt Gadient will replace Rauen as the team’s starter.
Joining Gadient in the backfield are returning running backs Jordan Thompson and Cody Krueger. The running game will be vital for the Cougars after limited success with it last season. VanOstrand had the highest yards per carry average on the team last year and Thompson is out at least two weeks with a dislocated kneecap.
Gadient will have some tall targets for the passing game in Kevin Niebuhr, who finished with 364 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sam Edwards and Jacob Ugland are other options.
The one spot where Z-M will have to fill in is the offensive line. Just two starters return this season.
The team expects its defense to be its strength this season. With seven starters back and all starting linebackers returning, there’s confidence in the group.
It took time for the group to adjust to the speed of a varsity game last season, but with a year of experience, that adjustment period shouldn’t be like it was last year.
“Going into the Stewartville game last year I didn’t know what to expect and it was kind of an eye-opening experience,” Nathan Bennett said. “You could see as we progressed last year we got more comfortable on the field. This year we know what’s coming and we’re looking to play hard.”
After making the section title game for the past four seasons there’s a desire to achieve more.
“We’re definitely going into the playoffs with that chip on our shoulder,” Krueger said. “What we learned is kind of just believe in yourself. We just kind of shocked everyone.”