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Ackterkirch separates the ball from the ball carrier


10/21/2021, 8:30am CDT
By Jon Weisbrod

Henson nails game-winning field goal, Owatonna pulls off dramatic, mud-soaked victory over Kasson-Mantorville



OWATONNA — For a game that started with essentially nothing of any material significance on the line, it might go down as the most substantial victory of the season for the Owatonna football team.

Reduced to only the most rudimentary game plan due to the unrelenting precipitation that started prior to kickoff and persisted throughout the entire evening, the Huskies found themselves entangled in a physical, rain-soaked battle against a talented and motivated Kasson-Mantorville team in a contest that featured seven fumbles and four combined turnovers in the second half, three of which came in a tumultuous four-minute stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter.

But all the ups, the downs, the grit, the grime, the mud, the rain, the fumbles and the flags only helped set the stage and provide a stirring prologue to a single pressure-packed moment that saw Owatonna’s kicker, Drew Henson, take the field and line up for a 30-yard field goal attempt with 36 seconds on the clock.

Having mentally and physically prepared for this exact moment on the sideline just moments before as he watched his teammates stitch together one final offensive push, all Henson needed to do was take a few steps forward, swing his leg through the ball and catch a fleeting glimpse of the pigskin as it sliced through the air and split the uprights behind the north end zone.

Drew Henson kicks the game winning field goal.“It felt great off my foot,” Henson said outside the home locker room roughly 20 minutes after the game. “I barely even saw the ball. I barely saw it go through and then I look to my right and I saw (holder) Nick (Williams) celebrating and then I saw everyone else was jumping up and celebrating, too. Right when we took the ball after the punt, I was thinking ‘this is going to end in a field goal. I immediately started kicking (into the net) and told our punter Eli Knutson to keep everyone away from me, just give me my room and just let me kick.”

Though the celebration started immediately after the go-ahead field goal, the result didn’t become official until Henson blasted a touchback on the ensuing kickoff and Owatonna stuffed the KoMets on three consecutive plays to drain the final seconds off the clock.

The emotional victory secures the Huskies’ 15th consecutive winning season and came against a physical and fast K-M team that entered the night ranked No. 8 in Class 4A and having lost just twice all season against a pair of teams with a combined 13-1 record.

“It feels really good to win this game,” said Achterkirch. “We knew they were a really respectable opponent. Coming into it, we knew it was going to be a physical game. We knew conditions weren’t going to be the best, so to be able to go out there and go head-to-head and battle out against a good team and come out on top feels really good.”

Complementing another superb defensive effort that included more than 10 tackles and one batted pass, Achterkirch stepped up on offense and unofficially rang up a career-high 99 yards on the ground, breaking free for a long touchdown run in the second quarter that spanned 43 yards and materialized on a play that head coach Jeff Williams had called twice in the first quarter with minimal success. But with roughly 7 minutes, 50 seconds left before halftime, the veteran OHS coach stuck with one of the few options he had left considering the increasingly-poor playing conditions and watched as his fullback slipped through the first wave of defenders and escaped into a wide open pasture of grass at the second level.

“We knew the holes were going to open up at some point,” Achterkirch said. “We knew they weren’t developing as much at first, but we stuck with it and it opened up on that play.”

“That’s as well as we’ve run that play since we went to the spread,” Williams added. “We had to keep the defense honest, and Grant popped that one.”

Achterkirch’s long touchdown run helped give Owatonna a 14-6 lead and came almost exactly two minutes after teammate Noah Wellnitz snagged a short kickoff, accelerated through a gap in the coverage and caught the hard-charging K-M pursuit on its heels as he  glided down the left sideline and into the end zone from 76 yards out.Noah Wellnitz breaks away on a 79 yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“The first kickoff to open the game just bounced around and we sort of fell on it,” Williams said. “I think Noah just said: ‘I am going to take this one.’ He took the ball and was up the field before their coverage had caught him. He’s a fast kid and that was a big play.”

The only scoring in the third quarter came on 4th-and-11 when well-built, 6-foot-2, 200-pound tight end, Gavin Geisler, snatched an 11-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Donovan with Owatonna’s Caleb Vereide blanketing him near the back of the end zone. Geisler simply made an excellent adjustment on the ball and fell backwards behind Vereide with 4:45 on the clock.

And then there was the final stanza.

With the rain having reached its peak intensity, Kasson-Mantorville’s first two offensive possessions started with a pair of lost fumbles, the second of which set up the Huskies in prime position at the KoMets’ 6 yard line with 7:51 to go in 14-14 deadlock.

Two plays later, though, it was K-M’s turn to pounce on a fumble, seemingly snatching momentum at just the right time when a KoMets’ player emerged from a pile just in front of the goal line with the ball and exactly 7:00 hanging on the clock. Though 90-plus yards from the end zone, Kasson had proven it could strike quickly on the ground — grabbing a 6-0 lead on long touchdown scamper by Broc Barwald in the second quarter — and was a decent drive away from at least giving itself a chance in overtime.

Owatonna’s defense had other ideas.

Aided by a dropped K-M pitch on first down and a holding penalty that nullified a 39-yard run two plays later, the Huskies forced the KoMets to reluctantly punt the ball away with 4:09 left when Donovan was cut off on the boundary two yards short of the marker on 3rd-and-9.

Achterkirch immediately pumped life into the game-deciding drive on the ensuing possession with an 11-yard scamper that advanced the ball to the K-M 34. After two runs that netted just two yards, Owatonna found itself facing a 3rd-and-long and called upon a their best receiver, Nick Williams, to make a play despite not having touched the ball all game.

The throw was perfect, and Williams didn’t disappoint.

Setting up on an island wide to the left and angling toward the sideline on the snap, the senior captain gained just enough separation from his defender and timed his jump perfectly to allow the pass to fall directly into his arms high in the air before landing on two feet and springing backwards out of bounds. The game-high 23-yard connection brought OHS inside the KoMets’ 12-yard line and put Henson comfortably within his range to drill the eventual game-winning field goal.

“I was just hoping I could make a play, honestly,” Williams said. “(The defender) knew it was coming, too. I just had to make a play one-on-one. The receivers were talking all night and we knew we were going to run the ball a ton, but we said it might come down to one big pass play to win the game. We were saying 70 yard touchdown, and it wasn’t quite that, but it was a big play.”

Added Jeff Williams: “We hadn’t really had much success and we hadn’t really even tried throwing the ball much. And (quarterback) Jacob (Ginskey) was saying ‘my hands are wet and I can’t get a dry ball.’ And along with that, the receivers hadn’t seen much of anything all night, and they didn’t die of boredom out there. They stayed engaged in the game and when it was time to make a play, they made a play.”

Drew Kretlow and Conner Grems each recovered a fumble, and though it can’t be overlooked how much the weather impacted the ability to sustain much traction on the ground, the pair helped spearhead an Owatonna defense that held the KoMets to 195 rushing yards, which is more than 120 yards fewer than their season average coming into the night.

Much like New Prague in Week 7, more than 40% of Kasson-Mantorville’s entire offensive rushing output came on one long play that featured missed tackles at the point of attack, this time watching Barwald bounce to the outside, dash through a crease near the sideline and run free for an 86-yard touchdown to give K-M a 6-0 lead.

Following Barwald’s score, Owatonna held K-M to just 3.8 yards-per-carry for the remainder of the game and permitted just 40 total yards over the next 20 minutes of action in the second and third quarters.

Dylan Maas chewed up 60 yards on 21 carries, but more importantly, didn’t put the ball on the ground despite being the player that touched the ball more than anyone on either team.

Punter Eli Knutson stepped up huge and had a career night when his team needed it most, booming the first of his five punts throughout the game inside the OHS 6 yard line to help the Huskies flip the script and win the field possession battle against the KoMets a week after New Prague started three drives inside the red zone, one of which began at the 1 yard line.

Kasson-Mantorville was flagged for six penalties for more than 55 yards.

PRESS COVERAGE I Important details, analysis & narratives

What happened? In a game with zero postseason implications and kicking off just four days after a 27-0 loss to New Prague, Owatonna dug deep and pulled off a gutsy victory on its home field against one of the best teams in all of Class 4A. Bottom line, the Huskies needed a performance like this to carry some positive momentum into the postseason.

Owatonna: 5-3 overall

Kasson-Mantorville: 5-3 overall

UP NEXT I Looking ahead at the upcoming matchup

Section 1-5A semifinal: vs. No. 6 Austin or No. 3 Northfield, Saturday, October 30.

Owatonna 17, Kasson-Mantorville 14

KM        0 6 8 0  —14

OHS       0 14 0 3—17


KM—Broc Barwald 86 run (kick fail), 9:47; 6-0 K0Mets

O—Noah Wellnitz 76 kick return (Drew Henson kick), 9:37; 7-6 Huskies

O—Grant Achterkirch 43 run (Henson kick), 7:42; 14-6


KM—Giesler 11 pass from Matt Donovan (Donovan run), 4:45; 14-14 tie


O—Henson 30 field goal, 0:36; 17-14 Huskies


Story and statistics by Jon Weisbrod

Photos by Gary Walter

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