A proud city team represented Southwest and their high school’s long-standing tradition of excellence on and off the field during the Class AAAA State playoffs Friday night at Macalester College.
The Washburn Millers saw their first State Tournament run in 10 years come to an abrupt halt when Waconia shut out the Millers 28-0 in the Class 4A quarterfinals.
The matchup between Washburn and Waconia featured players who probably didn’t see their teams compete the last time they made a state tournament appearance. For the Wildcats of Waconia, it has been 15 years since their last, first and only state tournament appearance. For the Millers of Washburn, this was their first appearance since 1997 and sixth overall. They won previous state championships in 1977 and 1972. So current players on these teams were either not even born yet, were toddlers or in grade school when their respective schools last played in the Metrodome.
The Wildcats used a great defensive effort and a strong running game to wear down the Millers.
Waconia sacked Washburn quarterbacks three times and intercepted them three times, thwarting any threat the Millers had throughout the contest.
Derek Earls, a 6 foot 3, 215 pound tailback, scored three times and rushed 29 times for 137 yards.
Waconia scored on their opening possession on a 43-yard pass from Dillon Hackbarth to Eric Aeling with 5:33 remaining in the first quarter, giving the Wildcats a 7-0 lead following the PAT kick.
Washburn had an opening possession touchdown called back when they were flagged for holding.
With 9:43 left in the opening half, Earls scored on a 14-yard run. Following the PAT, Waconia led 14-0.
Earls scored his second TD on a 1-yard run with 30 seconds remaining in the half, giving the Wildcats a 21-0 lead.
The rest of the game saw Waconia control the line of scrimmage with Earls bruising his way to nearly 70 yards in the second half. He scored the final touchdown of the game with a short run midway through the fourth quarter.
Waconia’s defense stopped the outstanding Washburn offense, which had been limited to less than 21 points only once this season.
Millers look ahead
Washburn finished their season with the Minneapolis City Conference Championship and a 9-3 overall record.
A positive for the Millers is their playmakers are all coming back next year for 15-year head coach Peter Haugen, who led his team to their seventh straight City Championship this fall.
Quarterback Brandon King and receivers Peter Branstad and Ra’shede Hageman are juniors and running back Montrell Wade is just a freshman.
Hageman made a handful of outstanding catches during the State quarterfinal game. He averaged more than 25 yards per catch this season.
King completed 50 percent of his passes for more than 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns.
The Waconia Wildcats will now face defending State Champion, Totino-Grace (11-1), Nov. 16 at 12:45 p.m. at the Metrodome.
In the other State semifinal game, Sartell-St. Stephen (9-3) will face Mahtomedi (9-3). That game will be played Nov. 15 a 12:45 p.m., also at the Dome.
The AAAA championship game takes place during Prep Bowl XXVI at 3 p.m. in the Dome on Nov. 24.
Contributing writer Jay Schneider covers postseason play for southwest metro-area prep teams.