For years, the Class 2A state football tournament was dominated by the Caledonia Warriors. They’d won the last three state 2A titles and five of the last six; they’d also been the representative of Section 1 in the state tournament in seven of the last eight seasons. So when the Chatfield Gophers knocked out the Warriors in the Section 1 title game this year, the champions from the other seven sections might’ve thought the path to the championship just opened up.
The Gophers, however, made sure that path stayed slammed shut.
Behind a dominant defensive effort that included a fourth-quarter goal-line stand, the Gophers kept the 2A crown in the southeastern corner of the state, defeating Minneota/Lincoln HI 17-7 in an outstanding championship game.
Throughout the entire game the Chatfield defense came up with big plays to keep the Minneota/Lincoln HI offense at bay, but none were bigger than the two plays that bookended the start of the fourth quarter. With the Vikings trailing 7-0 late in the third quarter, Minneota/Lincoln HI quarterback Austin Buysse connected with Nathan Pavek on their biggest offensive play of the game, a 57-yard completion to move deep into Gopher territory. They eventually got within the 5-yard-line and on the final play of the quarter, Jeff Gladis was stopped just inches short of the goal line to set up a fourth-and-goal play to start the fourth. Buysse attempted a quarterback sneak to tie the game, but the Chatfield defense came up with the stop to keep the shutout intact.
Starting inside their own 1, the Gophers went on a methodical march down the field, a 13-play, 97-yard drive that ended with a 19-yard field goal from Nate Skare. The drive took 6:47 off the clock and gave Chatfield a 10-0 lead with 5:13 to go. The Gopher defense then rose up once again, as Jacob Neis intercepted Buysse on Minneota/Lincoln HI’s next possession to set up the offense deep in Viking territory. Skare, the Gopher quarterback as well as the kicker, put the game away with a 3-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 17-0.
Minneota/Lincoln HI, who was just reclassified into Class 2A from 1A this season, ended the shutout by scoring a touchdown on a pass from Buysse to Gladis with six seconds left on the clock. Buysse ended the day with 204 yards passing as he completed 20 of 33 pass attempts. Alec Engler was Buysse’s favorite target as he hauled in nine catches for 49 yards, whil Nathan Pavek had five catches for 98 yards.
Chatfield was led offensively by running back Jacob Neis who carried the ball 24 times for 105 yards and a touchdown, and Alex Bradt added 69 yards on 16 carries. Skare was 2 of 7 throwing the ball for 68 yards; he also added a touchdown run.
The title was Chatfield’s fourth state championship in school history; they won three straight Class C championships from 1994-1996. Minneota’s record in state championship games fell to 4-2, with titles coming in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 2009 and a runner-up finish in 1993.