Here’s a closer look at the two teams squaring off in the Class 2A title game.
Head coach: Jeff Reents (250-61, 28 years)
Last State Title Game Appearance: 2014, Won against Williamsville 20-17 (Class 3A)
The Path to State
• defeated Julian 55-0
• defeated Sterling Newman 42-7
• defeated Bishop McNamara 45-25
• defeated Tri-Valley 42-14
Colin James, RB: James is a dangerous weapon when he gets the ball in his hands and runs with a vengeance that belies his relatively small frame. He has 1,361 yards on the season, one of two 1,000-yard rushers on the Wilmington roster along with Jacob Friddle.
Allan Richards, LB: Richards is an absolute bull in the middle of the defensive attack for the Wildcats, a unit that isn’t getting as much credit as it deserves for bottling up opponents. Richards is also a weapon in the area of placekicking and his long range field goal capabilities.
Karsen Hansen, FB/LB: Hansen is an X factor that opponents must account for. He’s an impact performer on defense, but he’s a much more difficult player to deal with on offense either as lead blocker or a third option in Wilmington’s double wing offensive attack.
• Wilmington has attempted just 13 passes all season, completing two, one for a touchdown.
• The Wildcats are riding a streak of six consecutive games of 40-plus point performances
• Wilmington has rushed for 201 first downs this season.
Wilmington has had a powerful running attack for nearly every season Reents has been in the leadership role for the Wildcats, and certainly the last 25 playoff years where the Wildcats have made the field every time. But this might be the most potent attack the Wildcats have ever put together and when coupled with a more than solid defensive attack, its no surprise Wilmington finds itself at this stage.
Head coach: Steven Kozuszek (41-11, 5 years)
Last State Title Game Appearance: 2019, lost against Sterling Newman 35-14 (Class 2A)
The Path to State
• defeated Mendon Unity 48-20
• defeated Bismarck-Henning 33-26
• defeated Pana 43-19
• defeated St. Teresa 37-35
Kolten Gajewski, QB: There’s a lot of options for offensive stalwart on a team that posted well over 5,000 yards of total offense, but Gajewski seems like a good place to start with 2,128 passing yards, 683 rush yards and a hand in 38 touchdowns.
Evan Knolhoff, LB: Nashville has given up some points in the postseason, but the Hornets have a knack for getting stops when they need them. Knolhoff is certainly a big piece in that defensive unit with 103 tackles and 11 for loss.
Ben Reid, WR: Reid has just 17 receptions on the season. But once he gets his hands on the football a big play is likely following as he averages nearly 29 yards per reception.
• Nashville conquered three consecutive undefeated teams to reach the state final, besting Bismarck-Henning, Pana and Decatur St. Teresa in a thriller.
• Nashville is the second-largest school in the Class 2A field after being the largest school in 2A for its 2019 title game run. Nashville (414) and Wilmington (413) are right next to each other on the enrollment chart.
• With just a few yards obtained for WR Issac Turner in the final the Hornets could compete a rare statistical feat: a 2,100-plus passer, a 1,500-plus rusher and a 1,300-plus receiver all on the same roster.
Nashville has bucked the odds throughout this 2A playoff sequence and who is to say it can’t pull off one more to get itself the big prize. The Hornets have beaten higher seeded teams in three consecutive rounds and upended one of the consensus favorites to reach the Class 2A final in thrilling fashion and aside from a Week 2 loss to Freeburg, Nashville’s offense hasn’t been reined in all year.