MOORHEAD - The last two football seasons for Moorhead ended in dramatic fashion with Alexandria taking the final bow. The Spuds lost in the Minnesota Class 5A, Section 8 semifinals two seasons ago in overtime and lost 27-20 on a 28-yard touchdown pass with five seconds remaining in the section semifinals last season.
"It was tough," Moorhead coach Kevin Feeney said. "It's not the way anybody had planned. I think our kids felt like we underachieved point blank."
Moorhead had played in the section championship game the previous six seasons before Alexandria knocked the Spuds out in the semifinals the last two seasons.
"I think every year we really try to do the reset button no matter if it was a good year or not good year," Feeney said. "Good or bad we try to flip the switch each year because it's a new team, new identity. The turnover we're going to have at a school our size will be quite a bit each year. It's not a hard thing to flip the script."
The script will require many new characters at the skill positions offensively and in the secondary defensively. Otis Weah was Moorhead's leading playmaker on both sides of the ball and in the return game last season. He was the leading rusher and played safety. He's playing football at the University of North Dakota, as is last season's quarterback and defensive back Jack Stetz.
Terrence Weah, Otis' cousin, was the first freshman to ever play varsity under Feeney two years ago. He most likely would've been getting the chunk of the carries this season as a junior, but his family moved.
Seniors Riley Schock, Nick Johnson, Anthony Angotti, Noah Anderson and junior Wyatt Gunkel will be seeing carries early to decide who will be the prime rusher. Schock returns the most experience at running back, but the Spuds will need him to help lead the defense.
"You're going to see a lot of guys early on in the backfield," Feeney said. "We certainly don't feel like we have a guy that is going to be our featured back. Schock brings back the most experience, but we need him on defense, so we need him healthy."
Feeney's son, Trey, will start Week 1 at quarterback to replace Stetz. The sophomore was in competition with Gunkel for the quarterback spot.
"We had a great battle at quarterback throughout the summer and fall camp, which we did at a lot of positions," Kevin said. "We felt like this is what's best for the team, especially with Elk River coming, so it's not an easy way to start the season. We feel like the best pieces to all the different parts of the puzzle are in place. This is the best lineup."
With Stetz and Otis Weah graduating and Terrence Weah moving, not only do the Spuds lose playmakers on offense, but their secondary as well. Adding to those losses is linebacker James Eggert, who graduated and is playing at Minnesota State Moorhead.
Seniors Peter Narum and Tommy Horan, junior Johnny Franklin and Gunkel will take over the secondary, while Schock will lead the linebackers. Narum and Horan will also be wide receivers.
"By far that's a very large concern for us, as our top five or six guys last year were all seniors," Feeney said of the secondary. "(Narum and Horan) have had incredible summers and fall camps. We feel like they are playmakers on both sides of the ball."
The offensive and defensive lines return a lot of meat, as seniors Logan Garcia, Jameson Cozad, Ali Younis, Evan Gray and junior Seth Anderson will lead both lines. Younis broke his fibula last season and missed the second half of the season. Feeney is also excited about senior Alec Thingvold and junior Houston Hall.
"Anderson has got a motor that is fantastic for the defensive line and a lot of ability to help on the offensive line, Gray played the whole year at guard last year and we got guys like Thingvold and Hall, who were JV guys, but now have good size and are high-level players," Kevin said.
Moorhead opens the season against an Elk River team that won a Class 5A state title two seasons ago and lost in the state championship game last season.
"That's how we like it, starting off with a good test," Kevin said.
Aug. 31: vs. Elk River, 7:05 p.m.
Sept. 7: at Sauk Rapids-Rice, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14: vs. St. Cloud Tech, 6 p.m.
Sept. 21: vs. Bemidji, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28: at Willmar, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 5: vs. Sartell, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12: at Brainerd, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17: at Alexandria, 7 p.m.