Chaska has prided itself on physicality, winning the battles for extra yards. Shutout for the second time in the 2018 season in week six, a change was needed.
Chaska fully committed themselves to that theme, rushing for nearly 500 yards the last two weeks of the season. Gaining tough yards, move the chains football.
Five consecutive wins, upsets over Waconia and Mankato West, the top two seeds in Section 2-5A, had Chaska playing in the State Tournament for the first time since 2013.
With a strong returning backfield, strength on the line and playmakers on the defensive side of the line, Chaska has the makings of a strong 2019 season.
"The big part of our camp was we knew we had some experienced guys. Some guys that are just good ball players. Some guys we had to move around. The summer was huge for us. Learning two spots. It's really helped us with depth. We have more depth than we've had in a few years. That's good news for practice, having competition for spots on the field," Chaska coach Bryan Dahl said.
When the Hawks went power in the playoffs, that brought now seniors Marcus Holasek and Stevenson Klotz into the backfield. A total of 21 carries in the regular season, Holasek paved the way for Klotz to run for 334 yards and five touchdowns on 34 touches in four games.
Now senior Matthew Kuntz rushed 163 times for 793 yards and three touchdowns as well. He had 316 post-season rushing yards as well.
"We realized we needed to make some changes. We have prided ourselves on being physical. We had a lot of teams stacking the box and we were trying to spread them out, so it made sense to move a few guys back in. Turns out in this state late in the year you have to run the ball, you never know what weather you'll face. That certainly helped us on both sides of the ball," Dahl said.
That's how we want to win games. We want to physically beat people up and take it to people. That will be a big part of our identity moving forward again," he added.
Senior Grif Wurtz, who Dahl called a "gamer," moves from safety to quarterback for the Hawks. A natural athlete, the captain will have a healthy Colden Dodds, who has caught 48 receptions for 590 yards and three touchdowns the past two seasons, and junior Nic Snuggerud.
Junior tight end Spencer Goetz also gives the Hawks flexibility with the catch and block.
Minnesota State University-Mankato commit Max Lommel anchors the line along with fellow captain, senior Eric Spielberger.
Defensively, Holasek and Klotz are tackling machines, having combined for 175 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Linebacker Nick Stanger emerged as a top defender down the stretch as well, an interception in the state tournament against eventual champion Owatonna.
Lommel and defensive back Ben Courneya were other standouts last season that return to the roster.
"We have good kids that take good coaching. They really bought into what we were doing, and believing in each other. We can go out and beat anyone. That was one of our concerns coming in. We didn't want to be complacent. You go back two years ago and we got upset by Waconia. You have to be playing good football at the right time," Dahl said.
"The guys have been progressing, getting better every day. That's all you can ask for," he added.
St. Louis Park, a new opponent, opens the season for Chaska on the road at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 29. The Orioles were a state tournament team in 2017.
"I love playing new teams. We see a lot of the same teams. It's tough being week one because we don't have much on them. We took some things from last year, we learned things from their scrimmage. ... It certainly will be a good test. They return their quarterback, running back from last year so we'll have to key on them, be ready for what they bring. We expect to go to St. Louis Park, face a team that expects to win. It should be a great one," Dahl said.
Aaron Ellingson threw for 906 yards, rushing for another 637 yards as a junior at quarterback for the Orioles.
Sajid Nathim led St. Louis Park with 10 touchdowns and 617 rushing yards in the regular season.
For Chaska, including a scrimmage in Mahtomedi on Aug. 24, it was about getting everything possible out of a two-a-days leading up to the season.
"Those two weeks fly. When you're in it, it feels like you have a lot of time. You get to game week and geez you have to make sure you have all of your bases covered. There's always stuff to worry about," Dahl said.
Play physical, make plays, and the worries will go away.