High school football: Houston looks to topple its second top-ranked foe of the season

Houston High School football coach Cody Hungerholt prepares to address his team during practice on Tuesday afternoon.

Chuck Miller, Winona Daily News

HOUSTON — The Houston High School football team has already toppled one top-ranked 9-man opponent this season. Tonight, it gets the chance to beat another.

The Hurricanes defeated then-No. 1 Grand Meadow — the four-time defending state champion — and ended its 51-game winning streak on Sept. 9. Houston, ranked third in this week's Associated Press poll, hosts current No. 1 Spring Grove in a homecoming game tonight that will have major implications on the South-East District.

“We always want to take down the top dog,” Hurricanes quarterback Jaytin Millen said. “Spring Grove’s been up there a long time. We just want to play Houston football and try to play as hard as we can.”

The Hurricanes (5-0, 4-0) overcame a deficit and ran off 22-unanswered points in the 30-16 victory over the Superlarks, and it gave them the confidence to know they could stand with the top teams in the class.

“We knew we’d be solid this year, but up until that win, Grand Meadow and Spring Grove had separated themselves from the pack,” Houston coach Cody Hungerholt said. “We wanted to see if we could close that gap a little bit. That game definitely confirmed for us that we’re on their level, and we can play with those guys.”

The Hurricanes have kept their foot on the gas since. Houston has defeated three opponents since that game by a combined score of 148-20, surrendering no more than eight points in a game and scoring no fewer than 38.

“Our conference is so strong that there’s not any time for a letdown,” Hungerholt said. “We played Mabel-Canton, and it was 8-0 at halftime. The teams we play, they can all beat you. It keeps our kids focused,”

Houston wins football games by wearing out its opponents with a four-headed rushing attack.

Depending on what the defense shows their hybrid Wing-T attack, any one of those players can take over a game.

Running backs Brady Happel, Zach Schneider and Joey Fishel — along with Millen — average more than 70 rushing yards per game and more than 7 yards per carry. In each of Houston's two most recent games, three rushers have eclipsed 100 yards.

“Our running backs don’t care if we score the touchdowns,” Happel said. “We don’t care if we get the ball. We just really care about winning. It helps that we aren’t selfish. And the coach helps to make sure we stay a family and keep the brotherhood around. It’s good that we can give the ball to any of our running backs and do something with it.”

Millen says the unselfish attitude stems from the fact that they are all friends off the field and grew up dreaming of playing football together.

“I’ve been hanging out with these guys since we were little kids,” he said. “Our dream has been to play football and beat Grand Meadow and play for that championship ring.”

Spring Grove brings its own high-powered offensive attack into the matchup. Led by quarterback Alex Folz, the Lions (5-0, 4-0) have scored 50 or more points in all five of their games, including a 52-51 overtime win over perennial power Cleveland in the season opener.

“Spring Grove presents a lot of problems because they try to spread you out,” Hungerholt said. “You can do everything right, and the quarterback they have — the play will break down, and he’ll scramble and make something out of nothing. We’d like to keep him in the pocket as much as possible.

"he’s just as dangerous with his legs as with his arm. He’s just a tough cover. It’s going to be much easier said than done to contain him.”

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