Waseca steamrolls into Class 4A semifinals
Waseca senior wide receiver Malik Willingham told running back Joe Hagen Friday’s game against Winona at Farmington High School was going to be his game. Willingham had no idea how right he’d be and how big of a game Hagen would have in a 49-7 thrashing of Class 4A’s No. 2-ranked team in the Class 4A quarterfinals.
Hagen rushed for five touchdowns and amassed 250 yards to lead the Bluejays to U.S. Bank Stadium and the semifinals in just the second trip to the state tournament in school history.
“He did his thing out there and I’m proud of him,” Willingham said.
Hagen had touchdown runs of 73, 56, 8, 2, and 4 yards before spending the fourth quarter on the sidelines.
“Our line was just incredible this game,” Hagen said. “I was just waiting for holes, saw a hole and just hit it hard.”
Waseca (10-2) last appeared at the state tournament in 2009 and faced a Winhawks team making its third consecutive trip but the Bluejays remained relentless and undaunted.
“Tonight was a night where we really preached toughness,” Bluejays head coach Brad Wendland said. “We saw it tonight and I’m so proud of them. We’re gaining confidence all the time. We’re gaining momentum. I just think the kids are maturing.”
Waseca took advantage of turnovers on Winona’s first two possessions of the game. The Bluejays recovered a fumble on a mishandled punt snap and scored two plays later when Hayden Groll ran in from 8 yards out for a 6-0 lead. That lead extended to 12-0 when Waseca recovered another fumble on the second play of the second offensive possession for the Winhawks. Seven plays later Hagen had his first touchdown and Winona (10-1) sat a little flummoxed.
“Sometimes that first time you’re there (at the state tournament), you’re just so excited to be there that you continue to play well,” said Winhawks head coach John Cassellius, whose team reached the semifinals in Class 4A last season. “Our guys were excited to keep moving on. Just couple of mistakes and I think they kind of went, ‘Whoa, we’re not used to this.’”
The Bluejays grabbed an 18-0 lead when Hagen scored from 2 yards out with 9 minutes, 34 seconds to play in the first half before Winona mounted a response.
Terrell Hall, who moved from wide receiver to quarterback in the second quarter, scored on a 1-yard run with 5:24 left in the first half for the Winhawks’ lone touchdown.
Waseca added another Hagen touchdown with 22 seconds left to close out the half with a 26-7 lead.
“Huge start,” Wendland said. “The start couldn’t have gone any better. We pounded the ball in the end zone and got some confidence. Our sideline wasn’t as cold.”
The Bluejays continued the rushing attack in the second half with Hagen breaking off his long runs in the third quarter as the lead swelled to 49-7.
Willingham added a 16-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter that he helped set up by intercepting a pass on Winona’s first possession of the second half.
Waseca, which ended the regular season unranked and without any votes in the Class 4A poll, has met every challenge it’s faced in the postseason beginning with a grueling section tournament where it beat No. 1-ranked Hutchinson 48-20 in the semifinals and then knocked off No. 10-ranked Dassel-Cokato 41-27 in the section title game.
“Everything’s just been clicking since the playoffs started,” Hagen said. “Once we get momentum, we just keep going.”
The Bluejays will try to keep that momentum rolling when they matchup with fourth-ranked SMB (11-0) Thursday at U.S. Bank Stadium at 4:30 p.m. in the semifinals.