Third time a charm?: Knights get another shot at state

SLEEPY EYE – Andrew Steffl would like to forget about last season’s trip to state.

The 43-12 loss to Bethlehem Academy in the Class A state quarterfinals was a sour end to an otherwise-undefeated 2012 season for Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s.

“It’s still in our heads,” said Steffl, a 255-pound senior lineman. “That’s definitely going to motivate us and our goal is to hopefully get to the [Metrodome] this year.”

St. Mary’s (11-0, 8-0 SMC) will have another shot at returning to the Metrodome this Saturday, when it faces Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity in the Class A state quarterfinals at 3 p.m. at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minn.

Even though the Knights are glad to be back in the state tournament for the third-straight time, their state berth was somewhat expected by their coaching staff.

“We set high expectations for ourselves,” said St. Mary’s coach Brent Kucera. “Going to state, we feel great about. But we’re not happy, we’re not satisfied and we want to get back to the dome. So that’s on our mind.”

The Knights will be led by junior quarterback Brandon Helget, who has been a dual threat from behind center all season.

Through 11 games, Helget has completed 92 of his 168 pass attempts (54.8 percent) for 1,233 yards and 15 touchdowns while throwing four interceptions.

Helget made the switch from wide receiver to quarterback going into this season in place of Jordan Anderson, who led St. Mary’s to state the past two seasons from behind center.

“He’s matured so much as a quarterback throughout this season,” Steffl said of Helget. “He’s starting to read the defense so much better and he’s really finding the holes and doing a great job.”

Helget is second on the team in rushing yards with 757, which he gained on 104 carries (7.28 yards per carry) for seven touchdowns. Helget’s ability to run the ball effectively has been instrumental in keeping the defense guessing between him and No. 1 running back David Surprenant.

“Me and Brandon, we complement each other in the way we run,” Surprenant said. “He’ll give it to me, he’ll give it to me, then he’ll pull it out and get a good run. It’s tough to defend.”

Surprenant, who weighs in at 200 pounds from the backfield, has led the team in rushing this season with 948 yards on 166 carries (5.71 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns. Surprenant has also led the defense in total tackles as a starting linebacker with 61.

The team’s leader in receiving this season has been senior John Brandl, who has caught 38 passes for 541 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore Kodan Kosak has also hauled in 19 catches for 442 yards and four touchdowns.

Among Class A teams, St. Mary’s ranks sixth in points scored with 34.5 per game. On defense, it has allowed 9.6 points per game, which ranks fourth in the state.

Despite having only scored more than 40 points once during the regular season (51-6 win at Sleepy Eye on Sept. 6), St. Mary’s surpassed that mark in each of its three games in Section 2A play with an average of 44.7 per game.

Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity (8-3, 3-2 Gopher Valley) won Section 4A as the No. 5 seed, knocking off No. 4 Mayer Lutheran, No. 1 Minneapolis North and No. 2 Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa by an average of 15 points to do so.

After a 2-3 start to the 2013 season, the Bulldogs resurfaced by winning six-straight games to make it to state. They are 16th in the state in points scored with 30.4 per game.

Running back Alex Heigl has rushed for 1,004 yards on the season for the Bulldogs, which leads the team.

If St. Mary’s wins on Saturday, it will face either Section 5A’s Dawson-Boyd (10-1) or 7A’s Braham (11-0) in the state semifinals on Nov. 16 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

St. Mary’s played at the Metrodome in 2011, when it lost to Mahnomen 32-12 in the state semifinals. The experience of playing there was surreal to the players.

“It’s hard to describe,” Steffl said of playing at the Metrodome. “It just feels so big, there are so many fans cheering. It’s breathtaking.”

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