Cleveland quarterback Carter Kopet describes them as the most embarrassing moments of his life.
His team holding a lead, Kopet needed to execute a routine kneel down to secure a victory. Instead, he mishandled the snap and fumbled.
Then, in another varsity game, he did it again.
Cut the kid some slack, though. He was only an eighth-grader.
“I definitely had my ups and downs and I struggled a lot,” Kopet said of his 2013 season. “But that helped me get to where I am now. Looking back, I am grateful I was put in those situations.”
While the fumbles were inconsequential, Kopet’s three touchdown passes he threw that year were not.
Now a junior, Kopet has thrown a total of 128 touchdown passes, blowing past the 29-year-old mark of 101 passing touchdowns set by Chris Meidt of Minneota from 1984-1987.
Kopet has thrown for 2,545 yards, 51 touchdowns and only seven interceptions leading Cleveland (13-0), located 17 miles northeast of Mankato, into the Nine-Man title game in the Prep Bowl on Friday.
After watching Kopet play in seventh grade, co-coach Erik Hermanson said he knew his up-and-comer was not going to benefit from running circles around his peers. Moving him to varsity as an eighth-grader was a no-brainer, and Hermanson had no fear of throwing Kopet into games.
“I would just make sure a couple times a game, at no particular time, he was in there just to get experience,” Hermanson said. “It would not just be when the game was out of hand. It was in pressure situations.”
Hermanson named Kopet as the team’s starter as a freshman. In each year since, Cleveland has improved its record and advanced further in the postseason. In 2013, the Clippers lost in the Section 2 final. Last season they made it to state tournament for the first time since 2007 but lost in the quarterfinals.
In the opening Prep Bowl championship game Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Clippers — in search of the first football title in program history — face three-time defending champion Grand Meadow. The Superlarks eliminated them in the state quarterfinals a season ago 52-14.
“Last year we were just happy to be there,” Kopet said. “We have been through this now. Our players have played almost a full additional season with the past two playoff [runs], so we have gained a ton of confidence and experience.”
Two amazing targets
Kopet said he would not be successful without the help of his offensive line, running backs and a pair of freakishly athletic receivers — Austin Plonsky and Jaiden Zishka — who are breaking school records of their own.
They have caught 37 of Kopet’s scoring passes this year.
Zishka, a senior, is the Clippers’ record holder in career receiving touchdowns. Plonsky, a junior, would have broken the same record if not for his 6-1 pass-catching partner. Now, he is chasing Zishka’s continually growing total.
Both caught touchdown passes in Cleveland’s 38-29 semifinal victory Thursday against Cromwell. Plonsky made a one-handed grab on his that had Hermanson raving that it should be on next year’s state tournament program cover.
Clippers basketball coach Dan Fredrickson, who coaches all three athletes during the winter, said Kopet’s ability to find Plonsky and Zishka in the end zone mirrors his ability to find them cutting to the basket.
The football team is so successful passing that it defied conventional wisdom to clinch a victory in its second game.
With the Clippers holding a 35-34 lead with two minutes to play, their opponent, Hill-Beaver Creek, filled the box with nine defenders determined to stop the run. Hermanson knew if his team ran, it would eventually have to punt. So he decided to throw. Kopet completed seven consecutive passes to “throw out the clock,” he said.
Kopet likely will have to throw a few more touchdown passes for the Clippers to upend Grand Meadow.
“This would be huge for not only us but the community,” Kopet said. “They have been behind us the past two years and doing something that special would be something people would not forget.”