The Winhawks responded to playing in November-like weather by playing November-like football.
Looking every bit like a team ready for another deep playoff run, the Winona Senior High School football team physically dominated Rochester Mayo up front, which set the tone in a 35-0 shutout.
Jackson Nibbelink threw three touchdown passes, including a beautiful 69-yard strike to Austin Mlynczak on the first play of the second quarter, and ran for two more to lead the Winhawks (7-0) to their 23rd consecutive regular season win.
It’s the first time Winona beat Mayo since Sept. 18, 1992, when Jeremy Burros, Jason Lanik and Mike Florin powered Bob Urness’ team to a 14-7 win over the Spartans at Paul Giel Field.
It's the Winhawks' first shutout since blanking Faribault Sept. 8, 2017, and came after shutting out both Austin and Northfield for three quarters before giving up fourth-quarter scores.
While the game may not have meant anything tangible — Winona clinched the Big Southeast-Blue title when it beat Austin on Sept. 27 all but wrapped up the top seed in the MSHSL Section 1AAAA playoffs after last week’s win over Northfield — the lopsided result should silence the few critics left who wonder if this Winhawks squad can get the program back to U.S. Bank Stadium for the third time in four years.
Mayo (4-3), a Class AAAAA team, had only one drive advance past the 50-yard line when the starters were in, and didn’t take a snap inside the Winona 35-yard line.
The opening drive was a sign of things to come. Winona overcame three penalties to march 60 yards — all on the ground — and ate up 7 minutes, 8 seconds off the clock. Nibbelink punctuated the drive with a 1-yard QB sneak on fourth-and-goal.
The long drive was key because it was into the wind. Mayo, a spread team that likes to throw it 30-35 times a game, didn’t get many snaps with the wind at its back, and it found it difficult to move the ball against a Winhawks defensive line that includes Division I recruits Aaron Witt (Wisconsin) and Ethan Prodzinski (Iowa State).
At the start of the second quarter, and using the wind at its back for the first time, Winona struck for a 69-yard touchdown pass from Nibbelink to Mlynczak on third-and-long. Nibbelink added a 30-yard touchdown run later in the quarter and the Winhawks seized control 21-0.
The lead could have been more, but Mayo turned Winona over on downs inside the 5, then converted a fourth-and-10 inside its 1-yard line. The drive ended up being the Spartans’ most promising of the game, but the first-half clock ran out.
The Winhawks’ defense remained stingy in the third quarter, forcing a fumble on Mayo’s first possession and locking up all other drives.
Winona then put the game away early in the fourth quarter as Nibbelink threw TD passes to Sam Kanne and Bryan Cassellius (his first varsity touchdown) to put the running clock into play midway through the fourth quarter.
The Winhawks played without all-time leading rusher Trevor Pomeroy, who suffered a knee injury in a homecoming victory over Kasson-Mantorville, and freshman backup running back Dominic Davis. Pomeroy was dressed but never saw the field. Also held out was wide receiver Dayne Gamoke.
Colton Beier handled most of the rushing duties until he left with cramps in the third quarter. Kanne shifted from fullback to halfback and broke off some nice runs as the Winhawks’ offensive line wore down a smaller Mayo unit as the game progressed.
Winona wraps up the regular season Wednesday night by hosting Byron (3-4), which lost to Rochester Century 34-13 on Friday. The Winhawks will get a bye in the first round of the section playoffs before hosting a section semifinal on Saturday, Oct. 26.
Winona has won 20 straight games at Paul Giel Field and has won 28 of its last 30 overall. Since the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the Winhawks are 47-6.