John's Journal
Caledonia Moves On To Class 2A Prep Bowl11/18/2016
Football is serious business in Caledonia. Success on Friday nights – as well as Friday afternoons – is a point of pride in this southeast Minnesota community. The latest Friday success was a matinee affair Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Warriors defeated Barnesville 55-20 in the Class 2A state semifinals, putting them on the cusp of back-to-back championships. Caledonia will meet Eden Valley-Watkins next Friday in the title game.

The victory over Barnesville ended up being lopsided, but the early stages presented something new and different for the Warriors: They fell behind. Ben McCabe of Caledonia (13-0) ran 16 yards for the game’s first touchdown, but a 60-yard TD run by Brady Tweeton of Barnesville (11-1) and a five-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Stetz to Connor John put the Trojans in front 13-7 after the first quarter.

Caledonia scored the next seven touchdowns, but for a while there was some question.

“I had never been down before as a starting quarterback,” said Caledonia’s Owen King. “I’m proud of how our team came together.”

The back-breaker for Barnesville came via three second-quarter turnovers. Caledonia turned them all into touchdowns and the halftime score was 41-13.

“I think that last six minutes of that first half killed us,” said Barnesville coach Bryan Strand. “We had momentum and something bad happened, something bad happened, something bad happened. Instead of being down 13 we were down a ton at halftime.

“We talked about that all week: we had to play a perfect game. We had to play flawless.”

State Football Semifinals

Thursday

Nine-Man/ Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran 38, Cromwell-Wright 29
Class 2A/ Eden Valley-Watkins 46, Maple River 13
Class 4A/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s 44, Marshall 34
Class 6A/ Totino-Grace 21, Blaine 20

Friday
Nine-Man/ Grand Meadow 35, Waubun 0
Class 2A/ Caledonia 55, Barnesville 20
Class 5A/ Owatonna (9-2) vs. Elk River (11-0)
Class 4A/ Winona (10-1) vs. Rocori (9-3)
Class 6A/ Eden Prairie (10-1) vs. Champlin Park (8-3)

Saturday
9 a.m. Class 1A/ Rushford-Peterson (11-1) vs. Browerville/Eagle Valley (9-3)
11:30 a.m. Class 1A/ Minneapolis North (11-0) vs. Wabasso (11-1)
2 p.m. Class 3A/ Rochester Lourdes (11-0) vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (11-1)
4:30 p.m. Class 3A/ St. Croix Lutheran (11-0) vs. Pierz (10-1)
7 p.m. Class 5A/ Mankato West (11-0) vs. Spring Lake Park (11-0)

Tickets can be purchased in advance at mshsl.org/tickets and will be available at U.S. Bank Stadium all three days at the northwest corner of the stadium

Ticket prices for the state semifinals as well as the Prep Bowl games on Nov. 25-26 are $14 for adults and $9 for students. Each ticket is good for all games that day.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 266
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,888
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Elk River’s Strategy: Take The Air Out Of The Game 11/18/2016
The Elk River football team throws a pass about as often as a super moon appears. The unbeaten Elks came into the state playoffs having thrown the ball only 23 times all season, in fact.

There was this shocking statistic after the Elks beat Owatonna 19-7 in Friday’s Class 5A state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium: They threw the ball once. It was an incompletion. So much for the aerial circus.

But golly can these Elks run. Sam Gibas carried the football 26 times for 118 yards and three touchdowns and the team finished with 269 yards on the ground. Owatonna (9-3) had 90 rushing yards and 99 through the air, coming up short in a game that featured two outstanding defenses.

“I was really impressed with Elk River’s defense,” said Owatonna coach Jeff Williams. “If you would have told me we would hold Elk River to 19 points, I would have said we had a really good chance of winning that football game. Elk River did some good things. They did a nice job of rallying up. What looks soft sometimes on tape didn’t look soft tonight. Hats off to them. Their defense played really well, as did ours, I thought.”

The Elks (12-0) feature a full-house backfield and lots of deception to keep defenses off balance. Williams said, “It was almost like defending a Barry Switzer Oklahoma team in 1978: ‘You’ve got the quarterback, you’ve got pitch.’ ”

The longest touchdown was a 4-yard run by Gibas. If anyone had thoughts of deep balls and long scoring plays, they were dashed quickly.

“That was a grind,” said Elks coach Steve Hamilton. “That was a tough game. Owatonna played really well, physical. Give credit to our defense. They played lights out today. We needed them. I think the biggest thing with us this year is our defense. They won the game for us today.”

State Football Semifinals

Thursday

Nine-Man/ Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran 38, Cromwell-Wright 29
Class 2A/ Eden Valley-Watkins 46, Maple River 13
Class 4A/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s 44, Marshall 34
Class 6A/ Totino-Grace 21, Blaine 20

Friday
Nine-Man/ Grand Meadow 35, Waubun 0
Class 2A/ Caledonia 55, Barnesville 20
Class 5A/ Elk River 19, Owatonna 7
Class 4A/ Winona (10-1) vs. Rocori (9-3)
Class 6A/ Eden Prairie (10-1) vs. Champlin Park (8-3)

Saturday
9 a.m. Class 1A/ Rushford-Peterson (11-1) vs. Browerville/Eagle Valley (9-3)
11:30 a.m. Class 1A/ Minneapolis North (11-0) vs. Wabasso (11-1)
2 p.m. Class 3A/ Rochester Lourdes (11-0) vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (11-1)
4:30 p.m. Class 3A/ St. Croix Lutheran (11-0) vs. Pierz (10-1)
7 p.m. Class 5A/ Mankato West (11-0) vs. Spring Lake Park (11-0)

Tickets can be purchased in advance at mshsl.org/tickets and will be available at U.S. Bank Stadium all three days at the northwest corner of the stadium

Ticket prices for the state semifinals as well as the Prep Bowl games on Nov. 25-26 are $14 for adults and $9 for students. Each ticket is good for all games that day.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 276
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,888
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
A Wild Ride For Winona And Rocori 11/18/2016
After the Class 4A football teams from Winona and Rocori had finished a momentous state semifinal Friday evening at U.S. Bank Stadium, everyone in attendance looked at someone else and uttered words along these lines: “Can you believe what we just saw!”

It was quite non-believable. If you consider ping-pong to be a back-and-forth sporting endeavor, this was way beyond that. This was more of an amusement-park ride, a big one, a ride that is not for the squeamish, not for the faint of heart. This was a truly wild ride.

“It was like a roller coaster,” said Winona coach Jeff Cassellius after his team escaped with a 34-30 victory and a spot opposite Benilde-St. Margaret’s in next Friday’s 4A Prep Bowl game.

There were big plays and big miscues. The teams combined for 11 turnovers: Winona (11-1) lost two fumbles and threw three interceptions, while the Spartans (9-4) lost four fumbles and threw two interceptions.

Robert Warren was a hero for Winona. He rushed 17 times for 224 yards and touchdowns of 71 and 54 yards. The Winhawks ran for 284 yards while Rocori passed for 309. In total, they combined for 894 yards; 444 for Winona and 450 for Rocori.

Rocori quarterback Connor Schoborg completed 31 of 42 passes, two for touchdowns. Gunner Feldhege caught 10 passes for 87 yards.

What pulls a team through in a wild game like this one?

“I think it’s just that family that we talk about, that brotherhood,” Cassellius said. “Believing in each other and getting after it, that sacrifice they’re willing to make for one another.

“It was like the best roller coaster in the world. Up and down and around and around. When we got off, we were still smiling.”

State Football Semifinals

Thursday

Nine-Man/ Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran 38, Cromwell-Wright 29
Class 2A/ Eden Valley-Watkins 46, Maple River 13
Class 4A/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s 44, Marshall 34
Class 6A/ Totino-Grace 21, Blaine 20

Friday
Nine-Man/ Grand Meadow 35, Waubun 0
Class 2A/ Caledonia 55, Barnesville 20
Class 5A/ Elk River 19, Owatonna 7
Class 4A/ Winona 34, Rocori 30
Class 6A/ Eden Prairie (10-1) vs. Champlin Park (8-3)

Saturday
9 a.m. Class 1A/ Rushford-Peterson (11-1) vs. Browerville/Eagle Valley (9-3)
11:30 a.m. Class 1A/ Minneapolis North (11-0) vs. Wabasso (11-1)
2 p.m. Class 3A/ Rochester Lourdes (11-0) vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (11-1)
4:30 p.m. Class 3A/ St. Croix Lutheran (11-0) vs. Pierz (10-1)
7 p.m. Class 5A/ Mankato West (11-0) vs. Spring Lake Park (11-0)

Tickets can be purchased in advance at mshsl.org/tickets and will be available at U.S. Bank Stadium all three days at the northwest corner of the stadium

Ticket prices for the state semifinals as well as the Prep Bowl games on Nov. 25-26 are $14 for adults and $9 for students. Each ticket is good for all games that day.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 276
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,888
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
It Will Be Eagles Vs. Eagles In Class 6A Prep Bowl 11/18/2016
The second day of football state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium came to a close Friday evening with a familiar team moving on to next week’s Prep Bowl championship games. Eden Prairie defeated Champlin Park 23-0 in Class 6A, meaning the Eagles will face Totino-Grace for the state title next Friday night.

Eden Prairie, of course, is no stranger to the Prep Bowl. The Eagles (11-1) won state titles in 1996, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Totino-Grace has an equally impressive pedigree with championships in 1977, 1978, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012.

In the first week of the 2016 regular season, the Totino-Grace Eagles handed Eden Prairie its only loss by a score of 17-14. Eden Prairie beat Totino-Grace 28-27 in the 2014 Prep Bowl.

Eden Prairie started Friday’s scoring five minutes into the game. After a punt pinned the Eagles on their own one-yard line, they covered those 99 yards in eight plays. Kyle Connelly caught a 53-yard pass from Cole Kramer for the touchdown. A 26-yard field goal by Antonio Montero made the score 10-0 at halftime.

A two-yard touchdown run by Carlos Williams made the score 17-0 late in the third quarter; that drive covered 80 yards in eight plays. Solo Falaniko scored on a 10-yard run with six minutes left in the fourth quarter to make it 23-0.

Champlin Park finished the season with an 8-4 record.

State Football Semifinals

Thursday

Nine-Man/ Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran 38, Cromwell-Wright 29
Class 2A/ Eden Valley-Watkins 46, Maple River 13
Class 4A/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s 44, Marshall 34
Class 6A/ Totino-Grace 21, Blaine 20

Friday
Nine-Man/ Grand Meadow 35, Waubun 0
Class 2A/ Caledonia 55, Barnesville 20
Class 5A/ Elk River 19, Owatonna 7
Class 4A/ Winona 34, Rocori 30
Class 6A/ Eden Prairie 23, Champlin Park 0

Saturday
9 a.m. Class 1A/ Rushford-Peterson (11-1) vs. Browerville/Eagle Valley (9-3)
11:30 a.m. Class 1A/ Minneapolis North (11-0) vs. Wabasso (11-1)
2 p.m. Class 3A/ Rochester Lourdes (11-0) vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (11-1)
4:30 p.m. Class 3A/ St. Croix Lutheran (11-0) vs. Pierz (10-1)
7 p.m. Class 5A/ Mankato West (11-0) vs. Spring Lake Park (11-0)

Tickets can be purchased in advance at mshsl.org/tickets and will be available at U.S. Bank Stadium all three days at the northwest corner of the stadium

Ticket prices for the state semifinals as well as the Prep Bowl games on Nov. 25-26 are $14 for adults and $9 for students. Each ticket is good for all games that day.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 276
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,888
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
A Game Of Firsts At U.S. Bank Stadium 11/17/2016
On a day of firsts, the best first eye-opening performance of MSHSL football at U.S. Bank Stadium came from an 11th-grader from Cleveland High School. His name is Carter Kopet and he put up some big numbers on Thursday as the Clippers defeated Cromwell-Wright 38-29 in the Nine-Man state semifinals.

It was the first high school game to be played at the new home of the Vikings. And Kopet had himself a day. He completed 23 of 39 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns, and carried the ball 25 times for 108 yards and two more scores.

And he didn’t even seem out of breath afterwards.

“Carter Kopet is really good,” said Cromwell-Wright coach Jeff Gronner, whose team finished an outstanding season with a 12-1 record.

People who follow high school football in Minnesota already knew about Kopet. He holds the state record for career touchdown passes with 127, and he has 50 TD passes this season (the state record is 55). He’s 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds and has quick feet to go with a strong, accurate arm.

“We had hard time tackling him,” Gronner said. “We had coverage and he pulled it down and he made some plays with his feet.”

The first high school touchdown in the stadium was by Cromwell-Wright junior Nic Johnson, who ran nine yards with 4:23 left in the first quarter. The first touchdown was a 20-yard connection from Kopet to Austin Plonsky for a 7-6 first-quarter lead.

Plonsky also had a big day. The junior caught nine passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns, including an astounding one-handed catch in the end zone.

“They scored first,” Kopet said. “We were kind of nervous and we didn’t lock in right away. As soon as we did you could almost see that switch get flipped and we were locked in the rest of the way.”

Cromwell-Wright’s Kannon Korpela picked off a Kopet pass and returned it 10 yards for a score with 3:49 left in the second quarter. That made the score Cromwell-Wright 22, Cleveland 20. Short TD runs by Kopet before and after halftime gave the Clippers a 31-22 lead, a lead they held the rest of the way.

Cleveland (12-0) came into the game knowing that its usual array of big plays and long scores might not hold up.

“These guys love big plays,” said Clippers co-coach Erik Hermanson. “We’ve been preaching ‘Take what they give you’ all week until we're blue in the face. We knew it was going to be five yards at a time.”

Kopet said, “We know the higher you get (in the postseason) you’re not going to be able to throw it 50 yards and catch it for a touchdown on every single play.”

Zion Smith led Cromwell-Wright with 15 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown, and he also completed six of 17 passes for 93 yards and a score.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 266
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,838
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn