The Winona Senior High School football team was in need of a big play.
Its offense, playing without star running back Trevor Pomeroy, was sputtering and visiting Kasson-Mantorville was starting to get its option attack into a rhythm, building momentum with every drive. With about 6 minutes left, the KoMets took over near midfield, down by just three points.
That’s when Ethan Prodzinski rose to the occasion, forcing a fumble that eventually led to a 2-yard touchdown run by Sam Kanne as the MSHSL Class AAAA No. 4 Winhawks won their 20th straight regular season game in a hard-fought 34-24 victory over Kasson-Mantorville in front of a large Homecoming crowd.
“It means something to them,” said coach John Cassellius, when asked about the senior Prodsinki making a play. “That senior, last year, last hurrah, last homecoming, you just find a way to make plays happen.”
The Winhawks (4-0, 4-0 Big Southeast-Blue) ran their regular season winning streak to 20 games. They’ve won 19 straight games at Paul Giel Field. They have won 25 of their last 27 overall.
Some of them were prettier than the one played Friday night, which turned into a physical, sometimes chippy game. But the Winhawks prevailed behind Prodzinski’s big play up front.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior defensive lineman crushed a K-M ball carrier, forcing a fumble that was covered by another senior defensive linemen in Cal Brinkman.
Those two then helped pave the way for an old-school Winhawks scoring drive with powerful runs from junior Colton Beier, Kanne and senior quarterback Jackson Nibbelink. When Kanne punched it in from 2 yards out a few moments later, Winona finally could exhale a little bit.
The KoMets (2-2, 1-2) didn’t get much going on its ensuing possession, and the Winhawks ran out the clock.
“Love the fact that all of our seniors are stepping up and our young guys are trying to follow suit and learn from them,” Cassellius said. “Lot of guts. You get up by a couple scores, then you give up a score, there was never like any screaming and hollering.”
Pomeroy, who became the school’s all-time leading rusher earlier this season, left the game with a knee injury and didn’t return.
Jackson Nibbelink helped pick up the slack, rushing for three first-half touchdowns, including a 68-yarder that put the Winhawks on the board in the first quarter. As he did last Friday in a win over Mankato East, Nibbelink made plays with his legs to open up things for others.
In the third quarter, he did damage with his arm, finding Dayne Gamoke on a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Next week, Winona plays at Austin (2-2, 2-1), which lost a crossover game to Rochester Century 42-13 on Friday. The next home game is Oct. 4 against Northfield.