COLFAX — Setting their goal on making the playoffs their senior year, nine Viking players helped make that possible when they won their final game of the season against conference opponent Boyceville, sending them to a Level 1 playoff game at Edgar. It was the first time since 2006 a Colfax football team made it to post-season play.
Ethin Kiekhafer was a four year varsity player for the team and was instrumental in the team going from a 1-8 record his freshman year, 3-6 his sophomore year, 2-7 as a junior and above .500 at 5-4 this season. Playing as a receiver on offense and linebacker on defense, Kiekhafer caught five passes for 65 yards and a touchdown as a freshman, led the team in receiving yards with 321 as a sophomore on 28 receptions with three TDs and led the team in receptions with 30 his junior year with 303 yards and five TDs. Showing his versatility this year, he also played running back and rushed for 214 yards on 35 carries with four TDs. His most memorable run was against Boyceville when he carried a bunch of Bulldogs with him to the end zone for nine yards and the go ahead score in the fourth quarter in that all important win. He also snared 14 passes for 254 yards to lead the team and came up with a huge reception on the second to last play of the game against Spring Valley, leaping over a pair of defenders for a catch that set up a winning TD. And in his first win over Elk Mound, he caught a pass in the middle of the field and raced 75 yards for a score. He also handled the kicking duties with kickoffs and extra points, booting seven of 17. Defensively, he led the team in tackles this year with 47 solo and 49 assisted with one interception. He totaled 947 receiving yards over the four years and was an Honorable Mention All Conference pick as a receiver his junior year and Second Team linebacker and HM receiver as a senior. Kiekhafer has a couple of college teams interested in him for next year.
Two year letter winner Noah Pretasky showed why he ran at the state track meet in the sprints last spring as he tore through opposing defenses for 898 yards this year. He averaged 9.8 yards per carry and crossed the goal line four times and also found his niche as a receiver, snagging 10 passes for 193 yards and a pair of TDs. One of those scores came on a 50 yard catch and run against the conference winning Mondovi team. Three of his rushing touchdowns came against Elk Mound on runs of 51, 24 and 80 yards as he totaled 257 yards in the game. He also returned punts and kickoffs, and was a big part of the defense as he intercepted two passes and knocked down plenty more, several in the Boyceville game to help seal a Viking win. He was a Second Team All Conference pick as a running back this season.
Pound for pound, defensive back Troy Bird made sure his opponents knew they had been hit when he made a tackle from his defensive back position. Bird was a two year varsity player on defense and saw some action as a receiver, mostly in his junior year. He also returned kickoffs, his longest for 22 yards.
Taking over as one of the team’s best defensive players this year, Logan Sikora stopped many a running back and covered plenty of receivers as an outside linebacker. But he did whatever the team needed him to do, whether it was running the ball or moving into the offensive line after three starters went down with injuries. Playing with an injured shoulder the last three games of the season, Sikora none the less played offensive guard in the Boyceville game, and was a big reason the team held the Edgar team to just eight first half points before he had to leave the game with that same shoulder injury. His junior year, he played as a receiver and also at linebacker.
Devon Utpadel, playing two years of varsity ball, really made a name for himself not only as a receiver but as a defensive end this year. He was second on the team in receptions with 11 for 255 yards with three touchdowns and one two point conversion, and was sixth in tackles, leading the team with seven tackles for loss of yardage and with four and a half quarterback sacks. But Utpadel will always be remembered for “The Catch”, against Spring Valley in the game played in Don and Nona Williams Stadium in Menomonie. After Colfax fell behind in the final minute of the game, quarterback Jarrod Rudi found Kiekhafer for that afore mentioned pass for 31 yards with just seconds left, and on the final play of the game, Utpadel went to the corner of the end zone and came down with the ball amidst several Cardinal defenders, landing on the ground and showed the referees the ball in his hands for the winning score. If the Vikings had lost that game, they would not have ended up in the playoffs. Utpadel was honored as an All Conference Honorable Mention selection both as a tight end and defensive end for his efforts.
Nolan Prince played two years as a lineman, spending most of his junior and senior year on the offensive side. He moved into the defensive side this year and was in on plenty of tackles. But his big play of the season came when he alertly pounced on a fumble by his own teammate against Boyceville, and even came up with a first down for the team on the play. That allowed the Vikings to take some time off the clock late in the game and preserve the win.
Rhett Kragness, Coltin Breezee and Peter Lyrek all did the hard work in the trenches, opening holes for their running backs and pass blocking for the quarterback as offensive linemen. Kragness, a two year starter, tore his ACL early in the season and didn’t see much action. Breezee and Lyrek also played on special teams.
Third year head coach Mark Maloney knew this group of seniors were a determined bunch when they showed up for summer practice.
“We had most of these guys in the weight room on a regular basis over the summer and they set a goal to make the playoffs,” he said. “When you haven’t won a lot of games in the past, you have to learn how to win and we came from behind several times to do just that. That shows the character of these seniors. They were very athletic and they were resilient, and they showed the younger players what hard work can do,” he added.