Shooting for the dome: Nicollet hopes to avenge state loss
NICOLLET – In 9-Man football, it’s not all that uncommon to see players multi-task – playing both offense and defense and sometimes even playing multiple positions on both sides of the ball.
For the Nicollet Raiders, that multi-tasker is senior Matt Fischer, who plays wide receiver on the offensive side of the ball and plays a number of positions on defense.
His versatility means he’s counted on to make big plays all over the field, and it’s a challenge he seems to welcome every week.
Fischer has played linebacker, defensive back and even on the defensive line when needed. While moving around may be difficult for a lot of players, it’s no big deal for him.
“You’ve just got to focus and know what way to go,” Fischer said of playing the various positions. “You just trust that your team will be back there for you if you make the wrong choice.”
He’s a big reason why the Raiders, who closed the season ranked No. 5 in the 9-Man state poll, allow 18.6 points per game.
For the Raiders, and especially the senior class, Friday’s 9-Man state quarterfinal football game represents a second chance.
The Raiders (11-0) open the 9-Man State Tournament on Friday against Underwood (8-3) at Roseville High School. The Rockets defeated the Raiders 28-0 in the quarterfinals of the state tournament in St. Cloud, Minn., two years ago.
But that was then, and this is now.
This year’s Raiders average 47 points per game, a total that ranks high in school history.
It’s their seventh trip to the state tournament, and this group is trying to capture the school’s first-ever state championship.
Friday’s task for Nicollet involves stopping a run-heavy Underwood team. The Rockets come into the game with more than 2,900 yards rushing and only 350 yards passing.
“We just need to hit them with their own game, and come back and be just as aggressive,” said junior linebacker/offensive lineman Jay Hendrycks. “We just need to not wait for anything and make stuff happen.”
While Nicollet puts up plenty of points, defense still is something that the team prides itself in.
“We take a lot of pride in what we do, because it means so much to us,” said senior defensive tackle John Scheurer. “From a defensive point, most of the time we focus on the run and our linebackers are generally moving and reading.”
Last year was the only time in the past four years that the Raiders didn’t qualify for state. It was tough ending the season earlier than usual for them, so they made it a goal to get back into the Section 2 title game this year.
“It was struggling that we didn’t bring the section championship home,” Fischer said. “We wanted to go get it [this year] and we knew how it felt to lose, so we didn’t want that to happen again.”
The Nicollet senior class is currently tied with the class of 2003, which played its final season in the fall of 2002, with 40 wins.
“It’s impressive to know that we’re one of the better teams that came through Nicollet,” Fischer said. “It’s great just to put on that Nicollet uniform knowing that we’ve had a good past.”
They’d like nothing more than to win on Friday to break that record and get into the Metrodome, a place they haven’t played since the 2009 season when they lost in the state championship 37-22 to Stephen-Argyle.
Scheuer, for one, is hoping to get that chance to play indoors.
“That’s huge, monumental, because that’ll be my first time playing at the Dome,” said Scheuer, who has 57 tackles on the season.
This year’s version of the Raiders is a well-balanced team. They are led by junior quarterback Dalton Elliott, who leads the team with 1,300 yards rushing and 18 rushing touchdowns. He has thrown for a school-record 36 touchdowns and he’s also passed for 2,604 yards on the year.
Hendrycks helps clear holes for Elliott and the rest of the backfield. Elliott’s ability to run and throw helps the line, because they know there’s a number of different things he can do with the ball if needed.
“The biggest thing is we just need to give him a lane,” Hendrycks said. “If blocking breaks down, as long as we give him a lane, he can make something happen.”
The Raiders have plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. Matt Christenson (397 yards rushing, eight touchdowns) and Travis Murphy (371 yards rushing, two touchdowns) lead the rushing attack. Matt Fischer has 903 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns while Kenny Fischer has 481 yards receiving and four scores. Matt Fischer also has kicked 44 PATs and has a 40-yard field goal.
Colin Bloemke, another receiver, said it’s fun lining up with a variety of offenses.
“It’s pretty great, watching people make plays, we can score from anywhere, from big plays, running, QB sneak – it’s pretty great,” Bloemke said.
Offensively, Noah Thompson leads the Rockets with 2,107 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. He leads the state in rushing yards, so the Raiders know they will have their hands full.
Size is one thing the Rockets have plenty of. Their line is bigger than what the Raiders are used to seeing, but they aren’t intimidated.
“It will be a tough challenge, because we’re outweighed all the way across,” Hendrycks said. “But I think with fundamentals, moving our feet, we should be able to make things happen.”