Stephen-Argyle overcoming injuries and opponents
With an undefeated season and a section championship on the line, Stephen-Argyle lost starting quarterback Hunter Yutrzenka to an injury in the second half of the section final last week.
The senior is one of the Storm's top playmakers. But junior Brody Pietruszewski stepped in facing a 20-19 deficit and drove the Storm to the game-winning drive. He scored the go-ahead touchdown in a 27-20 win against Kittson County Central in the Section 8 9-man football section championship game.
"You hope everyone on the team can step in and be ready to go,'' Storm senior running back Ashten Safranski said. "We feel we have good depth. You have to move on (after an injury).''
Moving on—that's been one of the themes for the 11-0 Storm. After winning its fourth consecutive section title, Stephen-Argyle plays Mountain Iron-Buhl at 6 p.m. Saturday in Bemidji in the quarterfinals of the Minnesota 9-man high school football playoffs.
Yutrzenka's status for the quarterfinals is unclear. But the Storm have proven resilient. Over the course of the season, they have lost two-way starters Joston Hoeper and Jesse Clark and two centers to injuries.
Those players accounted for seven of the 18 starting positions at the beginning of the season. In their place are Safranski for Hoeper, Pietruszewski for Yutrzenka and Mason Mock on offense and Collin Neuschwander on defense for Clark. Kole Szczepanski starts at center after first Ethan McGregor, then Jake Zacha, were sidelined by injuries.
And the Storm have kept winning.
"We've had quite a run of injuries,'' sixth-year Storm coach Ethan Marquis said. "This is the most injuries I've had in a season here, for sure.
"Thankfully, we have very good numbers. We've had kids step into the lineup and play well.''
That isn't always easy.
"Joston and I are good friends,'' Safranski said. "It was a big loss for the team. Joston is a really good running back. Those were big shoes to fill. But I was confident I could do it.''
Minus Hoeper, Safranski has 550 yards and Nathan Kotts 549 to lead the balanced ground game.
Stephen-Argyle has found itself in closer games than when it was at full health. Prior to the come-from-behind win against Kittson County Central, the Storm edged Goodridge-Grygla 22-16 in the section semifinals.
Without the injured players, "I wouldn't say we haven't skipped a beat,'' Marquis said. "We've had some tight games. But we've found ways to win.''
Marquis said he isn't necessarily surprised that the Storm have continued to win despite the loss of so many key players.
"A lot of the best players in the state might be done now,'' Marquis said. "But the best teams are still playing.''
Stephen-Argyle is no stranger to the postseason. This is the program's fourth straight season in the state playoffs. It has won seven state championships since 1999.
In spite of the injuries, a trip to the state playoffs isn't a surprise to the Storm.
"We've worked hard every day,'' Safranski said. "We push each each other to get better every day in practice. Tradition has a lot to do with it. Tradition never graduates. It pushes you to get better.''
Stephen-Argyle at a glance
Coach: Ethan Marquis.
Record: 11-0, Section 8 9-man champion.
Saturday's 9-man state quarterfinal game: Stephen-Argyle plays Mountain Iron-Buhl (9-2) at 6 p.m. in Bemidji.
How the Storm got here: After going undefeated in the regular season and gaining the No. 1 seed in the Section 8 playoffs, Stephen-Argyle advanced with wins of 47-6 over Warren-A-O, 22-16 over Goodridge-Grygla and, in the section championship, 27-20 over Kittson County Central.
Starting offense: Sr. QB Hunter Yutrzenka, sr. WB Nathan Kotts, jr. WB Dawson Feuillerat, sr. FB Ashten Safranski, sr. TE Isaac Durand, jr. TE Mason Mock, soph. C Kole Szczepanski, sr. G Zach Gerszewski, sr. G Collin Neuschwander.
Starting defense: Sr. NG Taylor Voytilla, DE Gerszewski, DE Kotts, LB Safranski, LB Feuillerat, CB Durand, CB Neuschwander, DB Yutrzenka, soph. DB Jason Lindgren.
Offensive averages: Stephen-Argyle 32.5 ppg; Mt. Iron-Buhl 39.5 ppg.
Defensive averages: Stephen-Argyle 6.2 ppg; Mt. Iron-Buhl 11.1 ppg.
Leading rushers: Safranski 96-550, 5 TDs; Kotts 58-549, 10 TDs; sr. Joston Hoeper 51-430, 8 TDs; Feuillerat 45-316, 3 TDs; soph. Mike Jacobson 52-268, 4 TDs; Yutrzenka 42-212, 4 TDs; Lindgren 26-158, 3 TDs.
Leading passer: Yutrzenka 47-82, 812 yards, 11 TDs.
Leading receivers: Durand 20-402, 10 TDs; Kotts 9-194, 1 TD; Feuillerat 7-137.
About Mountain Iron-Buhl: The Section 7 champion relies on its ground game. There is a strong one-two rushing combo in quarterback Buffetta (177-1,505, 20 TDs) and halfback Peterson (173-1,194, 13 TDs). Both average more than 6.5 yards per carry. The playmakers on defense are linemen Dillion Drake (19 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) and Jack Lind (15 tackles for losses, 3 sacks).