Football: Red Wing prepares for top teamRed Wing scored its most points since 2006 last Friday in a 35-22 victory against Austin, a team that hasn’t won since 2009.
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
Red Wing scored its most points since 2006 last Friday in a 35-22 victory against Austin, a team that hasn’t won since 2009.
The Wingers’ opponent this Friday, Shakopee, was undefeated in the regular season for the past two years until Friday’s 27-3 loss to Class 5A football power Minnetonka.
Red Wing would like to continue that trend.
“The big thing for us will be to play a really good team,” Red Wing head coach Matt Schultz said of Shakopee. “I think Austin is an improved team but it’s tough to compete against a school that has 2,300 kids in it (like Shakopee). For us, we’re just trying to improve each week. We’re not young but we’re not overly experienced yet. A lot of those kids didn’t play much last year at the varsity level.”
The Wingers replaced 9 of 11 defensive starters from a season ago but the newcomers did a great job of stopping the run last week. They will need to do again against a Sabers team focused almost exclusively on the running game. Red Wing held Austin to 78 rushing yards on 29 carries.
“If they can get 500 yards running up the middle of the field, they will,” Schultz said. “If they don’t have to throw, they won’t.”
Offensively, Schultz said he expects to attack Shakopee the same way the Wingers did against Austin — involving another heavy dose of senior Andre Page — but it will be a more difficult test for Red Wing’s linemen. Shakopee plays a 3-5-3 defense, maximizing the Sabers’ linebacker talent.
“The offensive line played extremely well Friday night,” Schultz said. “They’re all seniors. They all want to win in the worst way. Watching them block on Friday night was really fun to see. We’ll continue to do the same things we’ve done.”
When the two teams played last season, a fierce wind slowed the Wingers’ pass-heavy offense but Shakopee only won by a touchdown, 14-7.
“We were able to move the ball a little bit,” Schultz said. “They’re just about the exact same team they were last year. … I don’t think we’ll try to attack them any differently than any other team.”
The one area where Red Wing will have to improve is turnovers. The Wingers lost two fumbles in the first half, one on the goal line, but it was just a matter of inexperience, Schultz said. Red Wing is learning to play without graduated starters, including quarterback Joel Newman, and the Austin game was only the players’ second full-contact experience of the season. The Wingers do not hit in practice and competed in one scrimmage.
“I think the No. 1 thing is just full-speed game reps,” Schultz said. “Get the kids in those kinds of situations.”
Austin scored six points off the first fumble but junior linebacker Thate Peterson’s interception return for a touchdown erased Red Wing’s second fumble and was a major turning point for a developing team. Red Wing can’t expect a defensive touchdown each week but it was a perfect example of the Wingers’ defensive determination.
“I haven’t seen a group of kids run to the ball on defense like this team,” Schultz said. “I thought we’d be pretty quick on the defensive side of the ball but it’s hard to know what kind of effort guys are going to give every snap. That was really great to see.”
While Schultz is content with how the team has competed through the season’s opening weeks, the next three weeks against top conference competition will go a long way in determining the extent of the Wingers’ progress.
“We’ve had three good weeks where we’re going to get some really good tests,” Schultz said. “We’ll all feel a little better after we get our first Missota conference game on the field and see what we look like.”
Red Wing plays Shakopee Friday at 7 p.m. in Red Wing.