By PATRICK SLACK
Upsala-Swanville Area (USA) didn’t open the season with the most talented team in program history.
It only had starters back at six off 22 positions too.
But the Patriots did have an unparalleled work ethic, and now, after routing Browerville 35-8 in the Section 6A finals at the Fargodome, Nov. 1, will be making the first state tournament appearance in program history.
“It’s a very unique team,” USA head coach Jay Loven said. “I don’t know if I’d say it’s the most gifted or talented I’ve ever coached, but it’s the hardest-working. I certainly believe its work ethic is the reason we are where we are right now. The thing that makes us the team we are is the kids’ attitude.”
The game was a rematch from the second week of the season, when the Patriots rolled to a 40-20 win, but after the Tigers rattled off victories in five of their past six games, USA knew better than to overlook them.
“I think that’s a pretty safe bet to say it’s the most complete game we’ve played,” Loven said. “They really executed well and were ready.”
Senior Mitch Lange put the Patriots on the board with a 15-yard touchdown run, then junior Tyler Evans powered in from a yard away to extend the USA lead to 14-0.
The Patriots then took to the air to double their advantage to 28-0 shortly before the half, as Evans found junior Jordan Sales with a 65-yard scoring strike and sophomore Kyle Lange with a 55-yard touchdown pass.
Browerville cut the lead to 28-8 by halftime, but never threatened to get back in the game, as Mitch Lange sealed the victory with another touchdown run from five yards away in the third quarter.
Mitch Lange finished the game with 166 yards on the ground on 29 carries, crossing the 4,000-yard mark for his career.
Evans completed 7-of-10 passes for 216 yards, five of which went to Sales for 145 yards.
Junior Zachary Ainali registered two sacks and junior Aidan Guthrie and Sales each got to the quarterback once on defense.
USA was to be tested right out of the gates, going up against top-ranked defending state champion Mahnomen in the quarterfinals, scheduled to be played at Bemidji State University, Saturday, Nov. 9.
“They are fundamentally sound and they are big up front,” Loven said. “That’s the reason they’ve been good for so long. It’s a program-wide thing. That’s what we are hoping to build.”
Mahnomen, 11-0 on the season, is making its 22nd overall appearance in the state tournament, with state titles in 1980, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1998 and 2012.
The Indians enter state having won 25 games in a row and 38 of 39.
Swanville made solo appearances in the state tournament in 1978 and 1984 and as a co-op with Grey Eagle in 1986 and 1987.
“For the program itself it’s a huge stepping stone, to show for the kids coming up that it can be done if you put the time in,” Loven said.
With a win against Mahnomen, the 10-1 Patriots would play the winner between Bethlehem Academy and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in the semifinals at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Saturday, Nov. 16 at 11:30 a.m.
Upsala-Swanville Area 35, Browerville 8
Browerville 0 8 0 0 – 8
USA 6 22 7 0 – 35
USA: Mitch Lange 15 run (Kick failed).
USA: Tyler Evans 1 run (Kyle Lange pass from Evans).
USA: Jordan Sales 65 pass from Evans (Justin Cichon kick).
USA: Kyle Lange 55 pass from Evans (Cichon kick).
BROW: Schettler 26 pass from Irsfeld (Schettler pass from Irsfeld).
USA: Mitch Lange 5 run (Cichon kick).
USA—Rushing: Mitch Lange: 29-166. Passing: Tyler Evans: 7-10, 216. Receiving: Jordan Sales: 6-145; Kyle Lange: 2-71. Defense: Zachary Ainali: 2 sacks; Aidan Guthrie: sack; Jordan Sales: sack; Austin Johnson: interception; Jeffrey Larson: fumble recovery; Cody Wensmann: fumble recovery; Chris George: fumble recovery.
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