Loss doesn’t put damper on great football season

By Chuck Kajer

The beginning was exhilarating, the game was thrilling, but in the end, the result was disappointing.

New Prague’s 20-13 loss to Mahtomedi in the state football semifinals Saturday was a great matchup. The Trojan defense played well, the offense and special teams came up with some big plays, including two field goals by Eric Olson. But, in the end, Mahtomedi and their quarterback, Matt Jeans, showed why they were the No. 1 ranked team in Class 4A most of the season.

The Zephyrs went through their regular season largely untested. The Classic Suburban Conference has some big schools, but except for Mahtomedi and possibly St. Thomas Academy, none that could compete in the Missota Conference. Their first game that was decided by less than 10 points came in the state quarterfinals against Lakeville South. In that game, they trailed until scoring twice in the fourth quarter to take a 20-13 win. They matched that score Saturday, after letting the Trojans take a 10-0 lead.

New Prague finishes its season with an 8-4 record and a trophy for being a state semifinalist. Not bad for a team that was ignored in the state polls most of the season. All season long, the Trojans had the knack for coming up with the big play when they needed it. Tony Kubes was often the player who came through at the right time. Sometimes, those big plays came on passes from quarterback Ross Skluzacek. Mike Romig and Daren Geyen had their share of big plays out of the backfield as well. Watching Romig was a treat in itself, because while not very big, he was very tough to bring down and could often be seen dragging would-be tacklers an extra few yards. Of course, none of these play makers could have succeeded without a strong offensive line opening holes and protecting the passer.

The Trojans’ defense came through with some big plays also, with a strong rush from the defensive line producing a number of sacks and hurried passes, which often led to interceptions by a skilled defensive backfield. And hard hitting linebackers Nick Zweber and Kevin Olson had some big hits to stop opposing running backs from making big plays of their own.

The Trojans also benefitted from strong senior leadership. Captains Brian O’Neill, Mike Hoemke and Jake Schoenecker were all leaders on and off the field. Defensively, all three had their share of big plays, getting a number of sacks.

Many of this year’s players will return next year, which bodes well for the team. However, for 20 seniors, Saturday saw the end of their prep football careers. Congratulations on a great season to O’Neill, Hoemke, Schoenecker, Eric Olson, Ted Berg, Justin Skluzacek, Kyle Smisek, Josh Drummer, Matt Tomlinson, Romig, Jason Kargus, Tim Ziskovsky, Kyle Jensen, Tim Sullivan, Andrew Weiers, Brendan Erickson, Bryant Havlicek, Matt Arens, Joe DeLuca and Nick DeValk, and to all the underclassmen on the team. The community is proud of you, as witnessed by the large contingent at the Metrodome Saturday. And thanks for a great season. You’ve helped keep the tradition of New Prague football strong.

Also, hats off to the coaching staff, led by Tony Buthe. These men put in many extra hours of work getting ready for the season and also preparing for each game. They set the example for the players, showing the level of commitment it takes to succeed.

Speaking of traditions, The Times is already working on its annual Christmas edition. We will once again present drawings from area school children, with each drawing sponsored by area businesses, organizations or individuals. If your business or group wants to sponsor one of these drawings in our December 22 issue, call The Times office at 952-758-4435.

Also, we are looking for stories about Christmas traditions. If you know of any interesting holiday traditions that our readers might be interested in reading about, let us know by December 1. Call us at 952-758-4435 or email news@newpraguetimes.com.

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