While the Central football team went just 2-8 this season, steady improvement that culminated in an upset playoff win over Watertown-Mayer most likely left Raider fans feeling better about the 2012 campaign than the final record might suggest.
“This year we were in kind of a unique situation where we were replacing 10 starters on offense and 10 starters on defense. So none of these kids came in really quite knowing all of the things that it takes to put everything together for a win on Friday night. They learned as they went, and you could see the improvements that they made as we went along. Ultimately it led to a big playoff win for us,” said Raiders head coach Paul Henn.
After securing the No. 7 seed in the section with a 1-7 regular season record, the Raiders stunned No. 2 Watertown-Mayer on the road with a 13-8 victory. That matched the Raiders up against No. 6 Jordan — which the Raiders beat 28-0 during the regular season — for a chance to go to the section finals. The Hubmen had also improved over the course of the season, however, and eliminated the Raiders in a close 26-20 contest.
Jordan then proceeded to upset No. 1 Providence Academy to earn a berth in the state tournament. Sibley East, which earned a share of the Minnesota River Conference title along with Mayer Lutheran, also qualified for the state tournament this season. During the regular season, the Raiders gave the Wolverines all they could handle in a 10-point loss.
“Anybody who watched, we were a competitive football team this year,” said Henn. “What we struggled with all year were those little things that in close football games that become the difference between winning and losing. Next year we’re bringing a lot of kids back. Hopefully all the lessons they learned over the course of this season can carry over and lead those guys to a few more wins next year.”
While the Raiders will lose 13 seniors to graduation next spring, they also have a strong foundation of young returning players who gained valuable experience this season, including sophomore quarterback Isaac Hormann, sophomore running back Noah Peterson and junior wide receiver / defensive back Casey Clemensen.
Peterson was an all-conference selection after gaining 1,027 yards rushing in his first year as a starter (5.3 yards per carry). He was also voted by team members as the offensive MVP for the season.
“The kid had a tremendous season, and was one of our top receivers [six catches for 188 yards]. He’s a real versatile kid and one who is going to be good to have around for the next three years,” said Henn. “He had a great year and continued on that tradition of really good backs we’ve had lately.”
Hormann completed over 50 percent of his pass attempts (80-150) for 969 yards and 11 touchdowns for the season.
“He had as good a season at quarterback as anyone over the last few years,” said Henn. “He was close to 1,000 yards passing, double-digits in touchdowns, and he’s only a sophomore. We had a first-year starter who was a senior last year who put up really good numbers, but for a sophomore to come in and do similar things…. Actually, Isaac probably shouldered more of the offensive load than we’ve had to ask any quarterback to do over the last three or four years. He had 150 attempts this year, that’s 15 a game. I don’t even know if you can remember the last kid we asked to throw 15 times a game. And he handled it well. He got off to a little bit of a slow start, had a real hot finish and that kind of momentum can only be good going into next year.”
Clemensen was the team’s top receiver in terms of catches, snaring 32 passes for 251 yards, and was also named the team’s defensive MVP after tying with freshman defensive back Brice Panning for the team lead in interceptions.
Senior tight end Luke Marschall was the team’s top receiver in terms of yardage with 264 yards on 16 receptions. Senior receiver Tom Messner also topped 200 yards through the air, catching 12 passes for 203 yards.
Aside from Peterson, the team’s only other all-conference selection was senior lineman Jordan Stevens, one of just two returning starters for the team this season. All-conference honorable mention selections were Clemensen and senior lineman Matt Ditsch.
Four players were named to the all-section team following the playoffs, including Hormann and Clemensen, along with linemen Sam Newbloom and Derrick Tellers.
Winners of the team’s “Do Your Job Award” this season were Stevens and senior running back Jeff Worm, who was the team’s second-leading rusher with 260 yards.
As for the seniors, Henn said that most of the group had to learn on the fly, but played hard throughout the year.
“They played real tough. A lot of them were learning as they went,” he said. “The unfortunate thing about being a senior is you’ve only got one shot, especially when you’re playing behind a group like we graduated last year. They had to try to learn quickly, and a lot of those guys did.
“I thought the seniors got their reward for their hard work and the commitment they made, regardless of what happened, to keep on playing and keep on playing. They got that reward when we got that upset over Watertown in the playoffs. It was good that they got that payoff.”
Among the departing group are captains Newbloom, Stevens, Mike Mullen and Trevor Groschen. While cumulative defensive statistics were unavailable, Henn said that those four were all among the team leaders in terms of tackles.
“We had a lot of things that were big positives for our kids as they continued to battle through the season and the playoffs. I’m proud of our kids for continuing to get better and learning and doing the things that will make them better next year,” said Henn. “Our young kids took big steps forward and that’s really going to help us heading into the offseason and next year.”