Sleepy Eye St. Mary's Knights appreciate good football season

Deb Moldaschel
The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch

Despite a nonstandard season, Knights’ head coach Brent Kucera said that he and his team were happy to have the opportunity to play football.

“We feel really fortunate that we got to get six games in,” Kucera said. “We’re luckier than most teams in that regards.”

Seniors on the Knights football team, front from left: John Balko, Anthony Helget, and Brad Balko. Middle: Riley Strate, Caleb Schumacher, and Spencer Hoffman. Top: Braden Hansen and Patrick Hoffmann.

The Knights qualified for a home field game in sections, but had to cancel their Nov. 17 game after one player tested positive for COVID-19 the previous Saturday. School administration made the decision to opt out of any remaining games.

“[The Brown County Health Department] recommended with the close contact tracing that our team go into quarantine, which means we needed to end our season,” said Bruce Woitas, St. Mary’s Activities Director.

Kucera said he was happy with the Knights’ performance during their six games, and that he saw steady improvement among the players.

“They played better every game because they were starting to figure out that every game could have been our last one,” Kucera said.

According to their head coach, the Knights’ offensive strengths depended on each individual game. Their last game, against the Buffalo Lake-Hector Mustangs, was the season’s highlight.

“Things just kind of went our way,” said Kucera regarding the Knights’ 72-26 victory. “[The Mustangs] turned the ball over six or seven times and we had a couple of defensive scores. Our defense really did well the second half of the season. They just started trusting the system, and got some experience.”

The seniors who played had a good showing. Kucera mentioned undersized tight end Braden Hansen as a player who consistently played above his ability. Anthony Helget was another solid performer who acted as one of Knights’ dominant lineman. Caleb Schumacher became one of the Knights’ leading receivers and their best defensive back. Riley Strate was a leading linebacker and Patrick Hoffmann ended up acting as the team’s utility man, playing tight end, guard, fullback, running back, linebacker, and quarterback. Spencer Hoffman, Brad Balko, and John Balko were also key players during the 2020 season.

“I was proud of what they did,” said Kucera.

The Knights’ quarantine will end around Nov. 25. Once the players are cleared to return to school, the coaches plan to have a last meeting to wrap up the season, congratulate them on a job well done, and remind them of the lessons they learned this year.

“The biggest thing [the kids learned] was taking it one game at a time and appreciating every game they could get in,” said Kucera. “It’s a good life lesson.”