The Mahtomedi Zephyrs will play in the section football finals. Nothing new about that — this will be the sixth straight year — except that it’s the first time in that span they’ve gotten there with a semifinal upset.
The third-seeded Zephyrs (4-6) scraped out a 15-12 win over No. 2 Minneapolis Washburn (6-3) on Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis to stay alive.
Mahtomedi got two touchdown passes from backup quarterback Benjamin Allen and three interceptions by the defense. Washburn also had two TD passes in a game where both offenses were stymied much of the time.
“The kids have been playing better, and that’s a tribute to them,” coach Dave Muetzel said, about shaking off a 2-6 regular season. “They have kept working hard and they have stuck with it.”
Probably headed for the program’s first below-.500 season since 1981, the Zephyrs came into the game with a 3-6 record that included two wins over an 0-9 North St. Paul.
But they are back in the section finals, Friday, albeit as a definite underdog against Tartan (9-0), which beat them 41-14 in conference.
It’s a different Mahtomedi team this year with less talent than most of its opponents, and nobody with game-breaking abilities like they’ve enjoyed for many years. The Zephyrs have to plod and scrap to compete.
“Any way we can make a play to come out on top, whether it’s offense, defense, or special teams, we have to get it done,” acknowledged Muetzel.
Washburn quarterback Andrew Gotziaman threw his 17th and 18th touchdown passes, to Jamarien Wheeler from 65 yards (his 10th) and John Lyman from 35 yards.
Those strikes gave the Millers leads of 6-0 in the first quarter and 12-7 in the second, but, crucially, they missed on a conversion kick and a conversion pass.
Otherwise, the Zephyr defense held Gotziaman in check, with eight completions in 28 attempts for 153 yards. And they picked off three passes —by Jackson Bjork and Ethan Loss in the first half and Jordan Hull with two minutes left in the game.
“We had a couple picks today, which was huge. We made some stops when we had to have them,” Muetzel said.
“Washburn has some good athletes. That receiver, Wheeler, he’s really good. He can get up in the air and he has great hands. The quarterback has a good arm. Their defense is just tough to move against.”
Allen, a senior, took the quarterback reins two games ago when junior starter Johnny Devore suffered a concussion.
“I felt like I was ready,” said Allen, who had been playing some outside linebacker and taking a few snaps at QB. Against Washburn, he completed nine of 23 for 123 yards. He had two interceptions, and an occasional fumbled snap, but made some key throws.
Allen hit Tony Neubeck for a 15-yard score in the first period with the fullback snagging the ball in the flat and breaking a tackle to score.
Down 12-7 in the third quarter, the Zephyrs marched 70 yards to score, getting 30 of those on Steven Runkel’s over-the-shoulder catch of a perfectly-thrown ball from Allen at the sideline while tightly covered.
It came down to fourth-and-goal at the seven. Tyler Tengwall slated over the middle and caught Allen’s toss wide open for the touchdown. Allen then lobbed a two-pointer to Jacob Wynia for a three-point lead.
“That was a slant-in and Tyler beat the cornerback and got open,” Allen said about the go-ahead touchdown.
“That’s a play we like and we had been talking about it,” Muetzel said. “We did not want to go for three, because we had a real nice drive there.”
The Zephyrs drove to the 13 later in the period but two fumbled snaps, a false start, and a quarterback sack erased their chances for some insurance points.
Mahtomedi was stymied in the final quarter but so was Washburn. In the final minute, Gotziaman threw downfield five times, completing one for 22 yards but missing on the other four, with Hull breaking up a pass near the goal line on fourth down to seal the deal.
•The Zephyrs had 112 yards rushing on 44 attempts. Josh Praml carried 23 times for 78 yards. Tengwall caught four passes for 45 yards, Runkel two for 40, Bjorn Sather one for 21, and Neubeck two for 21.
•Leaders in tackles were Kai Sather with seven (four solo), Matt Muetzel with five (two solo), Kyle Oswald with four (two solo) and Nick Weissner with three (two solo). Neubeck had the Zephyrs’ lone quarterback sack.
•Washburn’s Jaron Nelson ran 12 times for 99 yards. Wheeler caught three passes for 83 yards.
•The Zephyrs held Washburn to 0-for-10 on third downs and 0-for-4 on fourth downs, but were not much better at 3-for-16 and 1-for-4.
•There were penalties aplenty with Mahtomedi flagged 12 times for 74 yards and Washburn 10 times for 100 yards.
Mahtomedi ....……. 7 0 8 0 — 15
Mpls. Washburn …. 6 6 0 0 — 12
Wash — Jamarien Wheeler 65 pass from Andrew Gotziaman (kick failed)
Mah — Tony Neubeck 15 pass from Benjamin Allen (Kyle Oswald kick)
Wash — John Lyman 35 pass from Gotziaman (pass failed)
Mah — Tyler Tengwall 53 pass from Allen (Jacob Wynia pass from Allen)