MOORHEAD — The Moorhead Spuds won a "mythical" state football championship this fall, earning the top spot in the final Associated Press poll for Minnesota Class 5A.
The Spuds (7-0) went undefeated, including a 63-7 victory against Alexandria last Saturday at Jim Gotta Stadium in their lone playoff game. Minneapolis KARE 11's Randy Shaver announced the final AP polls Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 25. St. Thomas Academy (6-0) finished No. 2 in Class 5A behind Moorhead. Mankato West (6-0), Andover (6-0) and Chanhassen (6-0) rounded out the top five.
"It really kind of put the cherry on top of a really special season that we've been working for, for a really long time," said Spuds defensive end Thomas Myers. "It feels really good to finally get it, even though we didn't really get to play for it. Throughout the season, we've kind of shown everyone that we deserve it."
The Minnesota State High School League recognized section champions this season for sections that were completed before COVID-19 shut down the season. The playoffs were only scheduled to be played through the section title games due to the pandemic.
Spuds head coach Kevin Feeney said the school is going to recognize this team as the program's third state champion. Moorhead also won state titles in 1971 and 1987. Feeney said the 1971 team also earned its state crown via poll. He added it "means a ton" that the 2020 team received similar recognition.
"This will be recognized within our program and within our high school and out on the field," Feeney said. "They did everything that they were supposed to. We literally told them every week it’s a state championship game. To get that respect across the state, that’s a huge feather in the cap for these kids. That number that will go up at the stadium ain’t ever coming down."
Senior quarterback Trey Feeney completed 138 of 203 passes (68%) for 1,973 yards with 36 touchdowns and one interception to lead the Spuds offense. Feeney has committed to play football at the University of North Dakota.
"He was a difference maker for Moorhead," Shaver said as he unveiled the final polls via online stream.
The Spuds defeated five teams with winning records and two teams that were ranked in the final top 10 in making their case for the top spot in the final poll.
"Obviously, everybody would have liked to have played it out on the field, there is no doubt about that," Kevin Feeney said. "But for what these kids have went through, they have earned it, they deserve it."
Kevin Feeney was impressed with the way his team responded after a heartbreaking 58-55 loss against Elk River in last season's Class 5A state semifinals. Elk River scored on a 57-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game.
"It was never negative," said Kevin Feeney, who has been the Spuds head coach for 11 seasons. "It was always we're not going to allow ourselves to ever lose again on this football field. The preparation and work they put into this, the kids deserve this. ... I don't know what else these kids were supposed to do in the situation they were given. They earned everything that they could get. We felt like this entire season we were the best team in 5A."
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Myers led the Spuds with 10 sacks and 26 tackles for a loss. Moorhead held teams to 5.4 points per game, including three shutouts. Senior linebacker Jackson Gotta led the team with 118 tackles to go along with three sacks and an interception. Junior defensive end Jack Teiken had seven sacks.
"We were all kind of watching the stream online," Myers said. "As soon as it came out, we all just flooded to our group chat and everyone was so excited."
The 6-foot, 210-pound Jackson Gotta is the grandson of the stadium's namesake, Jim Gotta, who died last May at 93 years old.
"Playing a game under his stadium, I know he watched from up there," Jackson Gotta said. "We played together. Everyone just did their job. No one was selfish. Everyone played for each other."
Moorhead's high-powered offense averaged 44.7 points per game, scoring at least 42 points in five games. The Spuds averaged nearly 300 passing yards per game, while rushing for more than 110 yards per contest.
Spuds senior wide receiver Brady Walthall had 55 catches for 799 yards and 14 touchdowns, while senior receiver Blake Walthall added 37 receptions for 582 yards and 11 TDs. Senior wide receiver Jacqui Fitzpatrick had 22 catches for 225 yards and seven scores.
Senior running back George Nyanforh paced the ground game, rushing for 359 yards and four touchdowns on 42 attempts. He averaged 8.5 yards per carry. Nyanforh also had 10 catches for 227 yards and two TDs.
"To get this type of recognition way out here, the stats had to be eye-popping," Kevin Feeney said of his team being three hours away from the Twin Cities area. "That was the level of dominance that our team showed on both sides of the football. Offensively, this team's legacy will probably grow throughout the years because the numbers that this group put up in seven games are numbers that are put up in a typical 12-game season."
Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (6-0) finished No. 4 in the final Class 3A poll, Barnesville (7-0) finished No. 3 in the final Class 2A poll and Mahnomen-Waubun (5-0) finished No. 4 in the final Class 1A poll.
Lakeville South (8-0) was voted No. 1 in Class 6A, Fridley (7-0) was voted No. 1 in Class 4A, Annandale (7-0) was voted No. 1 in Class 3A, Caledonia (3-0) was voted No. 1 in Class 2A, Blooming Prairie (5-0) was voted No. 1 in Class 1A and Hills-Beaver Creek was voted No. 1 in 9-man.