Football season ends with a win against Mankato and farewell to seniors, Head Coach


Mohammed Islam

The 2021 football season officially ended for the Winona State Warriors with a 7-4 record. The Warriors bagged their last victory of the season against Minnesota State – Mankato, 18-16, also marking Coach Sawyer’s 197 win and final game of his 26-year coaching career. With 14 Warriors moving on from the university after this season, it was a bittersweet final victory for the team. “…just playing at Maxwell Stadium in front of all the fans. It’s a surreal experience to be honest,” said Javian Roebuck. Contributed photo from Athletics.

Syerah Mulhern-Allred, Sports Editor

After a rocky season, the Winona State University Warriors ended the 2021 season 7-4 after a hard-fought victory against Minnesota State- Mankato.

The game ended 18-16 after a back and forth two-point difference and field goals for most of the game. Each team only gained one touchdown each, with the Warriors at the end of the first quarter and the Mavericks at the beginning of the second quarter.

Winona State’s touchdown came at the end of 4 plays and 62 yards with 37 seconds left in quarter one. Owen Burke had an 11-yard pass to Jaylen Schleicher with a PAT from Jacob Scott.

With the score at 12-3, Mankato’s Jalen Sample had a short one-yard pass to JD Ekowa to top off a long haul of 13 plays, catching the score up a bit to 12-10.

This racks up head coach Tom Sawyer’s wins to 197 as he finishes his 26-year career and 25th season.

This year’s seniors include Jake Balliu, Burke, Devon Moore, Javian Roebuck, Cam Gavin, Carter Duxbury, Cole LaLiberty, Corrie King, Carter Berlin, Mason Staggemeyer, Trey Telez, Jace LaBuda, Tyler Hughes, Cole Wright and Colin Klatt.

While some of these boys have only been here four years, some have played longer through injury, COVID-19, redshirt years and post-season appearances.

Three of the seniors also had the honor of being captains this year: LaLiberty, Burke and Moore.

As they finish up the season, the seniors reflect on their football career that started around age 10 and the positive moments throughout it all.

“I would say the highlight of playing college football is that we’re all from different walks of life,” Roebuck said. “Another would be just playing at Maxwell Stadium in front of all the fans. It’s a surreal experience to be honest.”

Balliu, a wide receiver from Lake Villa, Ill. has been at Winona State for seven years while achieving his bachelors and masters and playing football for five of those seasons.

As a first-year player, Balliu set a school record with 190 punt record yards in a single game against Crookston. A year later, he set the school record with 504 punt-return yards in his second season, putting him at fifth in Division II football with 936 combined return yards.

Balliu also leads the NSIC division in kick return average and punt average with 28.8 yards and 14.8 yards, respectively. He also had the most catches this season with 35.

This season, Burke has thrown for 2,484 yards and 18 touchdowns.

On Saturday, Burke brought in a touchdown and went 16 for 23 and 186 yards. The starting QB left Maxwell Field as one of the best signal callers in Winona State history along with his impressive career.

In 2019, Balliu was ranked second in the NSIC and 16 nationally in punt return average with a 12.0 and ranked sixth in the NSIC in touchdown catches.

On top of impressive statistics, Balliu also made 2016 NSIC second team, 2017 NSIC first team, 2017 D2CCA All-Super region four second team, 2017 Don Hansen All-Region, 2017 Don Hansen All-American honorable mention, 2019 All-NSIC south second team offense and 2019 All-NSIC south first team special teams.

“My favorite part of my football career are the relationships I’ve created with my teammates over the years,” Luc Leszczynski said. “There is no better feeling than walking onto the field with them on Saturdays.”

Burke hails from Lakewood, Colo. and is finishing up college with four playing seasons and NSIC All-Academic three years in a row, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Burke has put up impressive numbers in his years here, including 6,728 career passing yards, 499 career completions, 57 career touchdown passes and 4,615 career total offense.

This season, Burke has thrown for 2,484 yards and 18 touchdowns.

On Saturday, Burke brought in a touchdown and went 16 for 23 and 186 yards. The starting QB left Maxwell Field as one of the best signal callers in Winona State history along with his impressive career.

“My favorite part of playing college football would definitely have to be playing with the people that I will have life long lasting relationships with,” Burke’s right hand man Ethan Wittenburg said.

Moore, linebacker from Chicago, finished up his fourth season with 2019 All-NSIC south second team defense and 2018 NSIC second team accolades. Moore came in as a quarterback but moved to a full-time linebacker in his second playing season. Contributed photo. (Mohammed Islam)

Moore, linebacker from Chicago, finishes up his fourth season with 2019 All-NSIC south second team defense and 2018 NSIC second team.

Moore came in as a quarterback but moved to a full-time linebacker in his second playing season when he came out with a bang. He led the team second in total tackles, solo tackles and TFL with 61, 43 and 11.0, respectively.

Moore unfortunately suffered an injury in 2019 that cut his season short with only 28 tackles and 3.0 TFL but was able to come back strong as a captain this season.

Roebuck is a running back and graduate student from Phoenix that only played three seasons due to an unfortunate elbow dislocation that caused difficulties.

Roebuck made 2017 NSIC first team and led the team in 2018 with a 5.6 rush/attempt average and rushed for 541 yards on 96 carries with two touchdowns.

In his 2017 season, he had 117 rushing attempts and led the team in total touchdowns with seven rushing and one receiving. He made eighth in NISC in yards per carry and fifth in the NSIC in rush- ing touchdowns and made NSIC offensive player of the week.

Though his collegiate career may have been short, Roebuck is an exemplary role model to every younger boy on the team. He led the team in rushing touchdowns this season with seven.

“That’s the main thing as you become older and look back on it,” Roebuck said. “Just making sure that they (the younger RBs) don’t make the same mistakes as you did.”

Gavin finishes his fifth season as a defensive back from Ill. when he was listed as the NSIC defensive player to watch for this season on the coaches preseason poll.

Gavin was awarded 2019 All- NSIC south honorable mention and finished up the 2019 season with 47 tackles, 34 solo tackles, team-best of nine pass breakups and second on the team in interceptions with three.

Gavin had his share of injuries but overall has been a great team player.

Duxbury is a third-year line- backer from Chatfield, Minn. who earned NSIC all-academic in 2017 and 2018.

Duxbury had quite the season as an influential lineman, notably ending the season with one of the most important plays, a first quarter sack in the end zone that forced a fumble and prevented the Mavericks from scoring.

That wasn’t the end of his college sacks as he finished with one to end the game and his collegiate football career. This concludes his defensive statistics with 6.5 total career sacks and 82 total tackles in 2017 and 2018, including 51 solo.

He finished this season being seventh in the NSIC for TFLs with 12 and 69 TFL yards.

LaLiberty is a defensive tackle from Chetek, Wis. who finished his fifth season strong. In his career he’s been awarded 2019 All-NSIC south honorable mention and 2018 NSIC honorable mention.

LaLiberty has had 38 solo tackles and 28 assisted to bring him to 66 total from 2016-2019.

He also worked tightly with Moore and Darius Manuel this season for a combined over 20 tackles for loss and seven total sacks.

Carter Berlin is a fourth year offensive lineman from Augusta, Wis. who was on the 2019 All- NSIC south second team offense and 2018 NSIC first team.

Berlin has played in a total of 37 collegiate games with two tackles.

Mason Staggemeyer is a linebacker from Caledonia, Minn. who has played in six games for a total of three tackles.

Trey Telez is a linebacker also from New Lenox, Ill. who played four seasons as a Warrior.

Telez recorded 25 tackles, 5 TFL and 2.5 sacks in 2019, 15 tackles, 1.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks in 2018 and 23 tackles, 4 TFL and 2 sacks in 2017 for an impressive career.

“It’s like the team I have right now I’ve been with these guys for six, seven years.” Coach Sawyer said about the seniors. “These guys have been around a long time, so I feel like they’re my own kids.”

Jace LaBuda is a quarterback from Menomonie, Wis. with eight passes in his two playing years.

Tyler Hughes is a third-year wide receiver from Onalaska, Wis. who made the 2019 NSIC all-academic team.

He’s played in 12 games for 14 receiving yards and 11 kick return yards.

Cole Wright is a defensive lineman from Stevens Point, Wis. who played two full seasons for the Warriors.

Wright appeared in eight games in 2019 for six tackles, three of those solo, and 1.5 sacks.

This season, Wright racked up a total of 13 tackles (8 of which were solo) and 2.5 TFL.

Finally, our last senior is Colin Klatt from Cedar Falls, Iowa who finished up his second season as a defensive lineman this year.

In his first season, Klatt had 15 tackles with an even split of 8 solos and 7 assisted.

After coming back from a shoulder injury and surgery this year, he had 12 total tackles with 7 solo and 5 assisted as well as 1.5 sacks and 2.5 TFL.

To the fourteen seniors, Coach Sawyer and Haley Johnson, thank you for all that you have given to this program and to the community.

With the 2021 football season officially done with a 7-4 record, roll Warriors.