As Monticllo football coach Jason Telecky – a man who has turned the Magic from perennial conference doormat to a division champion in five short years – walked off the football field a few weeks ago after a 31-0 loss to St. Michael-Albertville, he summed up the story of the game in two short sentences.
Turnovers, he told Monticello Times reporter Clay Sawatzke, killed any hopes the Magic had of beating a solid team like the Knights.
“In a game like that,” he said, “it’s going to get magnified a thousand times.”
Telecky’s team put the ball on the ground four times, and tossed one interception for good measure, in that first meeting.
St. Michael-Albertville coach Jared Essler knows his team needs to hear that message again and again.
“We get credit for taking advantage of the opportunities. They turned the ball over, and in this conference that will hurt you. We did the same thing up at Chisago. But, you can’t expect that to happen this time around,” Essler said.
The No. 1 Knights and the No. 4 Magic will do battle at 3 p.m. at St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West Stadium in Albertville. The Section 6-5A semifinal sees both teams coming in on a roll. Monticello ran for a school record 494 yards in their Section Quarterfinal win, 31-7, over Buffalo. St. Michael-Albertville, meanwhile, pulled off a dramatic, come-from-behind victory over Rogers in the final regular season game 10 days ago.
“For us, that was a playoff-type game. And the guys handled it well. We talk about assignments and adjustments, playing with that emotion but playing within the game. When you’ve got a crowd and an atmosphere like that, it can be tough. But they did a good job of that last Wednesday night,” Essler said.
Leading the charge for the Knights will be quarterback Jackson Greenwaldt, who, as a senior, is completing more than 60 percent of his passes. One of the top quarterbacks outside of the metro, the Knights go as Greenwaldt goes. In a turnover-riddled game against Chisago, Greenwadt’s interceptions in the second half spelled defeat. But it’s the one blemish on two back-to-back years as a starter that have been second to none.
“I think this is the time, now, for us to prove ourselves,” Greenwaldt, who has more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air. “There’s so much excitement around this program now. I think what we’ve been able to do over the past couple of years is the foundation for things to come.”
“We’re proud of the fact we’re here,” Essler, who captured his first conference championship this year, a year after winning the section title, said. “It’s rewarding. But it’s not something we dwell on too much. Every week presents a new challenge, particularly when you get to the playoffs, and if you’re good enough to win a playoff game there isn’t too much time before another game and another challenge presents itself.”
That challenge will come from either Elk River or Rogers, who play in the other Section 6 semifinal Saturday. Either way, a Knights win means STMA keeps home field for the Section Championship.
“We’ve worked hard in the offseason and our coaches have worked hard with us to get here,” Greenwaldt said. “We just want to keep getting better and keep it going.”