Trevor Pomeroy pushed past the Ko-Mets’ defense to score a touchdown in Friday’s game. The Winhawks will now compete at the state quarterfinals on Friday in Hastings, Minn.
In incredible feat, football team takes fourth straight section championship
After Aaron Witt, Sam Kanne and Bennett Heftman accepted their section championship trophy from athletic director Casey Indra Friday night at Mayo High School, they didn’t immediately raise it into the air like the custom dictates.
The trio walked back to the rest of their team for a few steps, then everyone made a beeline for the 10-yard line. The Winhawks wanted to celebrate this section championship, their fourth in a row, with everyone.
Once the Winhawks reached Ethan Prodzinski, who all night paced back and forth on the track behind the bench in street clothes and not an orange uniform, they could finally celebrate a 40-21 victory over Kasson-Mantorville in the MSHSL Section 1AAAA final.
“Him being out really motivated us to do better,” said Heftman, whose big fourth down stop early in the second quarter helped swing momentum in the Winhawks’ favor for good. “We don’t want his senior year [to end like this]. We want to keep him going.”
Prodzinski, who wasn’t allowed to play because of a referee said he threw a punch during a post-play skirmish with a Faribault player in a 62-0 win in the section semifinals, will be back in uniform and on the field as the Winhawks (10-0) battle Simey (9-1) in the Class AAAA state quarterfinals at 7 p.m. on Friday in Hastings, Minn.
The Winhawks coaches tried to appeal the ruling by showing the referee video of the play, but the referee’s decision was final. Prodzinski, an Iowa State recruit, was on the sidelines on Friday but could not interact with his teammates or coaches.
He had to watch, helplessly, as Kasson-Mantorville’s option attack had Winona on its heels early in the game. Although the Winhawks took an early 7-0 lead on a touchdown run by all-time leading rusher Trevor Pomeroy, the KoMets (6-4) marched down the field to tie the game at 7-all early in the second quarter, then was knocking on the door once again following an interception.
That’s when Heftman made the play that turned the game. K-M, which missed a field goal on its first drive of the game after a mishandled snap on a Winona punt, opted to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Heftman blew up the play, getting to quarterback Peyton Wilke before he could even think about pitching to a halfback.
A few plays later, quarterback Jackson Nibbelink found an opening and rumbled 82 yards down the field for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 3:04 left in the first half. On K-M’s ensuing drive, Trenton Langowski returned an interception 34 yards for a score after Heftman disrupted another run play.
In a matter of minutes, Winona went from being on the cusp of trailing by a touchdown to leading 20-7 at halftime.
“It makes you proud of the kids,” Winona coach John Cassellius said. “They really rallied around each other and have that passion for each other.”
Winona continued to dominate in the third quarter, as two blocked punts set up scores. Nibbelink threw a touchdown pass to Austin Mlynczak on third down for one score, then Pomeroy scored his second rushing touchdown of the game for the other.
Freshman Dominic Davis put the game away with a 12-yard touchdown run with 3:40 left, and everyone in orange and black started making plans for a fourth straight trip to the state tournament.
“It’s always one of those opportunities, to win four of those in a row is awesome,” Indra said of the team securing the fourth straight section title. “And to play as hard as they have as long as they have, as they have over these past couple years, you don’t take it lightly ... Kasson’s a very good team, but they rose to those challenges.”
“Every year is just a new level of excitement,” Cassellius said. “It’s a different group of kids, but we’re carrying on that tradition. I think it means a lot to the kids, but also the coaches, we’re just super excited to be playing another week.”
The Winhawks will take on Simley at 7 p.m. on Friday at Todd Field McNamara Stadium in Hastings, Minn., in the Class AAAA state quarterfinals. Tickets are $11 for adults and seniors and $7 for students, and may be purchased at the high school activities office. Tickets will be on sale from 8-9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and from 3:30-4:30 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday. All sales will end at 1:30 p.m. on Friday. Tickets may also be purchased at the stadium on Friday beginning at 6 p.m.
McNamara Stadium is located on the corner of 10th Street and Highway 61 in Hastings, not at the high school. Parking is limited, so be prepared to park in the neighborhood surrounding the stadium.
A send off for the football team will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday at Winona Senior High School. If you are planning to attend the send off, you must park in the parking lot or o the street and not drive in front of the high school where the buses pick up students.
For other information, including information for fan and student buses or section championship T-shirts, visit winonaschools.org.