By PATRICK SLACK
Upsala-Swanville Area doesn’t need to air out the ball often.
Having one of the state’s leading backs in senior Mitch Lange makes sure of that.
But when the Patriots do pass, they can be pretty sure it’s going to be a big play.
And it’s probably going to be a connection between juniors Tyler Evans and Jordan Sales.
The duo from Swanville has been playing together for years, and together has been a vital part of the Patriots reaching the state tournament for the first time in program history.
“Jordan and I have played sports together for a long time,” Evans said. “We know what each other is going to do before the play even happens. Jordan runs his routes hard and it gets him open – he is 6-foot-3 and can run and jump. He makes my job very easy. I just can’t miss him; he is usually wide open.”
In his first year as the team’s starting quarterback, Evans has completed 49-of-88 passes for 855 yards and 12 touchdowns while only throwing two interceptions.
Of those 49 completions, nearly 75 percent have gone to Sales, who has hauled in 32 passes for 625 yards and nine scores.
Such a strong running threat, along with strong play along the offensive line, has also kept teams from focusing on taking away the pass.
“Teams are always trying to stop the run by bringing as many guys in the box as possible to stop Mitch,” Evans said. “With the ability to pass, it helps open up running lanes for our running backs.
“With Mitch’s ability to run, teams know we want to give the ball to him,” he said. “So we can run play-action, which usually leads to us having open receivers and big offensive plays passing … The line has played great. They give me a clean pocket to throw from. It helps me out a lot.”
In Upsala-Swanville’s 35-8 Section 6A championship victory over Browerville, Nov. 1, Evans completed 7-of-10 passes for 216 yards, five of which went to Sales for 145 yards.
Although the Patriots expected to be formidable this fall, thinking this would be the first squad in program history to reach state after graduating such a talented class from last year’s 9-2 team seemed a bit far-fetched.
“Honestly, I can’t say I did,” Evans said. “We lost 15 seniors from last year’s team. I knew we had talent that was ready to step up, but still we lost so much, I didn’t really know what to expect.
“It didn’t take me long to see we had a chance to make a run,” he said. “After the first few games I saw that we had something special, but to state? I didn’t expect us to perform this well.”
Lange reaches 4,000 yards
As for that state leading back?
Lange checked off yet another personal milestone in the section finals, surpassing 4,000 career rushing yards, finishing the game with 4,098.
He has handled the ball 297 times this season on the ground for 1,898 yards and 24 touchdowns, averaging 6.39 yards per carry and 172.5 per game.