Throw out a loss to Robbinsdale Armstrong in week four and the Chaska Football team entered the Class 5A State Tournament with a common theme in nine wins. They were physical. They beat up the opposition, won the line of scrimmage.
A 14-0 lead at halftime in the quarterfinals against Section 4 champion Mahtomedi, Chaska put together the kind of drive that defines who they are.
Smash mouth football behind an offensive line that wore down an undermanned Zephyr squad that won two games in the regular season. A drive that sent Chaska to 21 second-half points, a 35-7 win on Nov. 9 at Vaughan Field in Shakopee.
"We knew this was going to be a good team we'd have to go through. We had seen them before (in an August scrimmage), but as their record showed they were a different team this time of year. We just had to prepare like it was going to be the best team we'd face all season," Chaska senior lineman Max Lommel said.
A steady dose of Matthew Kuntz and Stevo Klotz bullied the Hawks down the field on the opening drive of the third quarter, a 10-run from Klotz extending the lead to 21-0 on a Nic Snuggerud extra point.
"It was a little bit of a slow start for (the offensive line). Backers were coming through and we needed to tighten it up, get the first score of the second half. Play by play, we needed to manhandle the player in front of us and let our backs do what they do best," Lommel said.
Klotz added a scoring run out of the Wildcat formation early in the fourth quarter to seal the win at 28-0. Dewandis Youmans finished off the scoring for the Hawks with a 2-yard run to invoke running time.
Chaska totaled 290 rushing yards, 100-yard games from both Kuntz (126) and Klotz (104).
Wurtz was 6-of-9 passing for 118 yards, connecting with Snuggerud three times for 107 yards.
Chaska's defense, which has allowed one touchdown in the first three quarters in the last seven games, came up big multiple times to extend the streak.
None more important than the opening drive, Mahtomedi reaching the Hawk 5-yard line on a long pass from Johnathon Devore to Tyler Tangwall.
Held out of the end zone on the first two plays, Chaska's Klotz sacked Devore, forcing a fumble recovered by Cody Kack.
Chaska drove down the field, a pair of first-down conversion throws from quarterback Grif Wurtz, moving the chains before Klotz found the end zone from two yards out at 7-0.
Following a Mahtomedi 3-and-out, Chaska starting on its own 8-yard line, suspecting a run on second-and-short, Wurtz instead went to the air. Snuggerud got behind the defense, catching the pass in stride for the 83-yard connection and 14-0 lead.
The Zephyrs were stopped on downs twice, once on a Klotz fourth-down sack and once on a pass break-up by Michael Brown. The senior cornerback also intercepted his team-leading fifth pass of the season.
"We want to be a confident group. I think we've come together really well," said Chaska's Ben Courneya of the secondary, cornerbacks Brown and Kage Montoya, and safeties Courneya and Adam Ouska. "I really feel like we can be the best (defensive backs) group in the state and we feel like we showed it tonight and past games."
Mahtomedi scored a touchdown in the closing minutes on Chaska reserves.
Marcus Holasek (six), Klotz (four) and Kack (four) were tackle leaders for the Hawks with Gabe Kinneman credited with three tackles and a sack.
After reaching the state quarterfinals last season, leading eventual champion Owatonna at halftime before losing, getting past this round was an important step for returning players.
"The letdown feeling we had after being so close last year, it made us want to work even harder so we can keep practicing, keep playing, and bring home a championship to this town," Courneya said.
Next up for the Hawks is Coon Rapids, which defeated Spring Lake Park 14-2. The Cardinals are 8-3 on the season, regular season losses to Robbinsdale Armstrong, St. Thomas Academy and Hopkins.
Game time is 2 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
"It's going to be a big game. The whole city is going to be ecstatic. We expect a lot of people to be there. We want to go out there, make it feel like it's a home game, not get caught up in the lights," Lommel said.
"It's about playing our game like we practice for every week. If we can do that, we're going to come out on top," Courneya said.
Elk River, a 58-55 winner over Moorhead on the Monticello Miracle final play, will face St. Thomas Academy in the other semifinal. The Cadets upset top-ranked Owatonna 21-0.
Chaska and Coon Rapids met each of the last two seasons, the 2018 opener a 9-0 Cardinals victory. The Hawks won in overtime 24-17 in 2017 in week one.
Returning quarterback Jake Van Hulzen boasts the gaudiest numbers for Coon Rapids, having completed 57 percent of his pass attempts (102-of-179) for 1,160 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.
In recent wins over Spring Lake Park at state and Andover in the Section 7-5A final, Van Hulzen has failed to top 100 yards. Though, the senior has rushed the ball 30 times for more than 150 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore David Geebli had the ball in his hands a career-high 28 times in the state quarterfinal for 115 yards, one touchdown and one fumble lost. His season numbers are 821 yards and six scores.
Coon Rapids is playing in the state tournament for the first time since 1983. The Cardinals lost 23 consecutive games from 2014 to 2017 including three 0-9 seasons.
The Minnesota State High School League allowed Coon Rapids to petition down from Class 6A to 5A in 2018.
After a 34-0 loss in the 2019 season opener to St. Thomas Academy, Coon Rapids reeled off four consecutive victories, wins over Forest Lake, Spring Lake Park and back-to-back shutouts over Irondale and Park Center.
Consecutive losses to Robbinsdale Armstrong and Hopkins was followed by an 8-3 win over Park of Cottage Grove for a 5-3 record.
Coon Rapids has playmakers at linebacker in senior Myles Taylor (11 sacks, four fumble recoveries) and the team's top tackler, senior Jordan Nolan (80 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks).
GOING BACK DOWNTOWN
Chaska, playing in the program's fourth state tournament, the third time in seven years, last reached the semifinal round in 2013.
A one-point win in the quarterfinals over Andover, 21-20, the Hawks fell by a single point to Brainerd 20-19.
Despite outgaining the Warriors 498 to 189, Chaska struggled to finish drives, a missed field goal and a turnover on downs in the fourth quarter in Brainerd territory came up empty.
In the end, Brainerd made one more big play, Chaska finishing with a 10-1 record.