With a convincing 24-10 win over STMA, the Magic and Head Coach Jason Telecky forced their way into the record books as the first conference championship football team at Monticello in a quarter century.
“This is phenomenal,” said a slightly emotional Telecky after the game. “These kids worked so hard. It’s just a tremendous moment.”
After 25 years of mostly despair and disappointment within the football program, people started to doubt the tide could be turned at Monticello. There were people who believed football couldn’t win in Monticello. Telecky never accepted that.
“I knew it was here,” he said. “I played against Monticello in ’88. I knew it was here, I knew the people were here. It could be done.”
And so it would be done. When Telecky walked onto the job, this group of seniors was first walking into the high school. Somehow, the coach convinced a “new era” of kids that a program that had three wins the previous year and 11 over the past six years, could be built into a successful one.
They bought in.
“They’re great kids, great families, it’s a great community,” gushed Telecky. “That’s what it is. It’s here. You can win. It’s just a lot of work.”
And led by Birk Olson, Will Bauman, Mitch Barthel, Matt Bonk, AJ Potter, Paul and Jack Fair, and a whole score of others, that’s what this group did. They put in the work. They saw the program start to rise. They tasted success with a home playoff game last year. And this year, it’s all come together.
Paul Fair said after the game that he couldn’t have imagined this would happen to them as seniors. Yet, as leaders, this is exactly the goal they set for themselves. When Telecky brought his usual goal of a winning season and hosting a home playoff game to the off-season workouts, these seniors wanted more. They set their goal as a conference championship. And on brisk Wednesday night in a town that was a quarter century removed from its days as a football hot bed, the Magic weren’t going to settle for anything else.
Monticello 24, STMA 10
In the end, the game went almost exactly according to plan for the Magic. But it sure didn’t start that way.
The Magic got nothing on their opening drive and after a punt into the wind, STMA started their first possession at the Magic 40-yard line. The Knights picked up 17 yards and got on the board first with a 38-yard field goal. But despite giving up points, the possession gave a boost to the Magic defense that started with its back against the wall.
“Even though they got a field goal, that’s a win for us,” said Paul Fair. “That’s a big confidence boost.”
When Monticello got the ball back it looked like the boost had stretched to the offense as well. After a strong kickoff return from Will Bauman, Monticello used its second drive to march inside of STMA territory. But after two plays for virtually no gain, Monticello faced a third and long from the Knights 39. Not exactly running territory for most teams. But Monticello isn’t most teams and at full strength their ground game is their biggest strength. So they went to it. Jake Olson took a hand off up the middle, came to a stop, went left, picked up a block, made a defender fall and found a clearing down the left sideline as he sprinted into the end zone to give the Magic their first lead at 7-3.
After Monticello took the lead, it didn’t look like the home team would need much more for offense. The defense knocked STMA’s best running back out of the game early, and they shut down most other options throughout the first half. As the game progressed late into the first half, Monticello was the beneficiary of good field position and got a couple of cracks at adding to their lead. They come up empty until the final drive of the half. With a minute left Hayden Laimer picked off a STMA pass and returned it all the way to midfield, once again giving the Magic good field position. This time they took advantage. The Magic moved the ball down to the 19-yard line, where they stalled out with 19 seconds left. Facing a fourth and long, Monticello went to special teams.
On his first field goal attempt in five weeks, Jakob Kounkel’s kick was true, giving the Magic a 10-3 lead at the half.
In the second half, Monticello continued to control the outcome by controlling the style of play.
The Magic knew they would have to match, if not exceed, the physical play of the Knights.
“They were way more physical than any other team we’ve played in a while,” said Fair. “So we just got up there and got it done.”
And get it done they did. Defensively, the Magic delivered the hits. Offensively, well, they did more of the same. The offensive line continued to open up holes for the running game throughout the second half.
“The offensive line played great,” said Jake Olson, who was the beneficiary of a few big holes. “I can’t give them enough props for what they do. I love em.”
That line helped lead another Magic drive down the field midway through the third quarter. But as a couple prior ones had done, this one seemed prepared to die out without points. Facing a fourth down and 18 at the 23-yard line, Monticello was too far away to kick a field goal and too close to punt. So they went for it. Bonk rolled left, and patiently surveyed his options. Rather than forcing a throw deep, he checked down to Olson who was five to 10 yards from the first down marker. But after turning upfield, Olson shed multiple tacklers before falling forward just inside the five-yard line. First down, by inches. Three plays later Will Bauman scored from a yard out to put the Magic up 17-3.
On the next possession, the Knights showed signs of life. The Magic seemed to loosen their coverage slightly, and quarterback Cole Krutzig took advantage. Krutzig marched STMA down the field and capped the drive himself with a 15-yard scamper for a touchdown to pull the Knights within 7 with 8:40 left.
The Magic got the ball back in need of a good drive, and they got it. But, after getting to the opposing 15-yard line, they weren’t able to find fourth-down Magic and a turnover on downs gave STMA the ball with four minutes left and a chance to tie.
The Knights strung together a series of positive plays, moving the ball to midfield. There, the Magic defense stiffened up. Suddenly, the Knights were facing a fourth and 10 with less than two minutes left. They lined up to go for it, and completed a pass. But junior Jake Berthiaume, who the Knights had try to throw at for much of the second half, was on the spot. His picture-perfect tackle in the open field brought down the Knights receiver and brought the Magic offense back out onto the field.
It was Jake Olson time.
He took the first play from scrimmage and headed at the left tackle.
“[The coaches] were like, ‘all we need to do is get a first down here and then we can take a knee,’” said Olson. “I was just going for the first down and saw daylight and went for it.”
Olson turned the corner, and there was no one there. Outrunning his only pursuer, he strode into the end zone amongst a roar of cheers and a big realization.
“I saw all the people over there like [Athletic Director Gary] Revenig, he was cheering, they were going crazy,” said Olson. “And I realized we just won the conference. It was amazing, the best feeling I’ve ever felt.”
The game wasn’t officially over, of course. Paul Fair picked off a STMA pass on the ensuing drive, and the Monticello offense came out to take a knee and run the clock out on its biggest regular season win since 1987, when U2 released the Joshua Tree, Ronald Regan was President, the Twins won their first World Series, and none of the current players were alive.
“I’m unbelievably proud of you guys,” said Telecky in the huddle after the game. “What a season.”
Thursday morning, Telecky likely reminded the team that it was a great regular season. The postseason still lies ahead. Monticello earned a No. 2 seed (Rogers is the top seed) and will host a semifinal game Saturday, Oct. 27.
But Wednesday night was for celebrating.
“It’s just such a big group of hard workers, said Telecky. “It was so nice to able to say, ‘your hard work paid off. Enjoy it.’”