Mankato West came into the Section 2-5A Championship averaging 39 points scored per game. Chaska averaged less than nine points allowed defensively per game.
Mankato West quarterback Jack Foster came into the game having thrown for 1,883 yards and 27 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Chaska entered having allowed eight touchdowns from the first-team defense.
Something had to give.
Chaska, with four shutouts posted in the regular season, added another in the section final, a 21-0 win in the most dominating fashion a three-score game can be.
"We have a great defense. We come out to practice every day and they work their butts off. We know we can rely on them every game. It was great to get a win here, especially with it being our last home game for the seniors," Chaska senior captain Grif Wurtz said.
Mankato West, shutout for the first time since Nov. 19, 2016 in the state semifinals (14-0 to Spring Lake Park), was held to five first downs until the closing minutes.
"Our kids do a good job of one, being physical. Our goal is to stop the run, make teams one-dimensional. They're locked into their job and they execute their responsibility. We have 11 guys coming together right now and it's been a lot of fun," Chaska head coach Bryan Dahl said.
Foster completed just 10-of-37 passes for 179 yards. The Scarlets' running game was non-existent.
Defensive linemen Hunter Brackee, Cody Kack and Max Lommel did the bulk of the work upfront with Stevo Klotz and Nick Stanger bringing the heat off the edge. That left a deep Hawk defensive backfield to force Foster into numerous long, low-percentage throws.
"They're a great throwing team, but we wanted to challenge them into doing just that, throwing the ball. We talked all week about the D line playing run. If we could stop them with three down linemen, two middle backers, it was going to help us on the edge," Dahl said.
Chaska, leading 14-0 in the second quarter, had chances to bury Mankato West multiple times before and after halftime. Penalties strained potential scoring drives. A 35-yard field goal came up just short as well.
After starting on the Mankato West 48 on the second drive of the third quarter, Chaska finally put the finishing touches on the win. Wurtz's 14-yard throw to Nic Snuggerud extended the advantage to 21.
A perfect throw, an even better catch. A helmet tap.
"That was huge. (Mankato West) can score fast. We knew if we could get one more we'd probably have the game sealed up. We got it and it was huge," Wurtz said of the touchdown.
Wurtz, a starting safety on the 2018 Chaska team that won 17-13 on Mankato West's home field, enjoys his new role leading the offense. A unit that dominates in the running game. Once the ball is rolling it seems only they can stop themselves.
"Our mentality is beating guys at the line of scrimmage. We want to be physical. You're not going to score 35 (points) every week. Sometimes you have to grind it out. We want to wear teams down, give our team that best chance to win at the end. We've done a great job of doing that. We had some penalties tonight, but we'll come back next week and execute better," Dahl said.
Chaska rushed for 244 yards as a team, 130 yards from Matthew Kuntz. Klotz spelled him for 96 yards, the duo combining for 38 of the team's 51 carries.
Chaska's offensive line of seniors Eric Spielberger, Max Lommel, Sam Larson, Austin Arnold, and Ben Stoffel, and junior Josh Baughman, paving the way.
"Our line is blocking great. Our backs are hitting the holes. Our fullbacks are hitting, doing their jobs. Then we can hit a long ball every once in a while and it's awesome," said Wurtz, who completed four passes for 56 yards.
The first break for Chaska came on Mankato West's third offensive drive in a 0-0 game. A high snap was mishandled by Foster, Chaska linebacker Marcus Holasek recovering the fumble near midfield.
Ten plays later, Klotz broke through the line of scrimmage on a fourth-down run for an 8-yard score and 7-0 lead on a Snuggerud kick.
Chaska's defense held again, getting the ball back in Scarlet territory once again. A fourth-down run of 37 yards from Kuntz, a misdirection draw play, pushed the lead to 14.
Mankato West turned the ball over three times to zero for Chaska. Klotz had a strip sack fumble recovery to start the fourth quarter with Kage Montoya intercepting a Foster pass as well.
"We need to come out every game like it's our last. We have to play as hard as we can all the time," Wurtz said of the lesson learned from Chaska's lone loss to No. 2-ranked Robbinsdale Armstrong in week five.
Chaska, in the state tournament for the fourth time in school history, the third trip in seven years, enters the Class 5A Tournament as one of the teams to beat.
The Hawks, ranked No. 3 in state, are on the side of the bracket with unranked Mahtomedi, Coon Rapids and No. 10 Spring Lake Park.
Top-ranked Owatonna, No. 7 St. Thomas Academy, No. 6 Elk River, and Moorhead are on the other side of the bracket.
Chaska, which lost in the state quarterfinals to eventual champion Owatonna in 2018, opens with Mahtomedi (5-6), which upset previously undefeated Tartan in the Section 4 championship 28-27.
Game time is noon on Saturday, Nov. 9 at Vaughan Field in Shakopee.
"We have a lot of older kids, guys with experience. We have a mature group that know how to handle stuff. They know how to handle these types of situations. We've bonded as a team and they enjoy coming and playing, being together for Saturday morning practices and stuff. It's a lot of fun," Dahl said.