Kevin Sommers took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2006, Menahga and Sebeka had formed a cooperative to play football as the United North Central Warriors. When Sebeka decided to play as an independent team starting this fall, Sommers became the head coach of the Menahga Braves.

The last time Menahga fielded an independent team was in 2005. The Braves finished with an 0-8 record that year. The Warriors posted a 54-78 overall record in 14 seasons, highlighted by a 9-3 record and a trip to the state Class AA semifinals in 2015. Sommers was an assistant coach for UNC the past six years.

Menahga was originally set to play a junior varsity schedule this fall. However, the pandemic forced three teams to call Menahga to fill vacant spots on their schedule. The Braves opened the season with a 54-20 loss to Browerville/Eagle Valley, followed with an 18-8 loss to Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal and ended the season with a 46-8 loss to Warroad. Menahga also played Park Rapids in a junior varsity game.

Even though Menahga was outscored 118-36 in going 0-3 in those three varsity games, Sommers believed the chance to compete at the varsity level will help the Braves’ football program in the future.

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“(It was a) crazy season. Tons of unknown things with the schedule and practices,” said Sommers. “We took it one day at a time. We played four games, three of which were varsity games. (It was) a crazy season to be the first season as the Menahga Braves on their own.”

There were 28 players who comprised the Braves’ roster by the end of the season. Of that number, only one was a senior. This season set a solid foundation for the future with the potential of 27 varsity players returning next fall.

Leading the Braves this season offensively were quarterback Brock Berttunen; running back Ethan Hendrickson; fullback Ivan Anderson; wide receivers Charlie Hodge, Knaylor Howard and Quincy Jantz; tight end Isaiah Usher; and Logan Torma, Marcus Peterson, Bodie Berttunen, Dylan Rasmussen, Riley Sunstrom and Henry Salmen on the line. Torma (defensive end), Hendrickson (linebacker), Anderson (linebacker) and Hodge (defensive back) were the leaders on defense. Hodge is the only senior in the group.

Hendrickson led the offense by rushing for 172 yards and a touchdown while Berttunen passed for 176 yards and a TD and rushed for 111 yards and two TDs. Hodge was the main receiver with 120 yards. Usher added 43 receiving yards and Hendrickson had 24 receiving yards and a TD. Torma also rushed for a TD while Anderson and Usher converted two-point conversions.

Team awards went to Hendrickson (Offensive MVP), Torma (Defensive MVP) and Salmen (Rookie of the Year).

With a talented group returning after gaining some valuable varsity experience, Sommers is looking forward to next season.

“We have some great players coming back,” said Sommers. “We have a lot of fight in our players.”