John's Journal
Prep Bowl XXXV Matchups Are Set11/19/2016
Thanksgiving weekend is right around the corner, and that means it’s almost time for the annual Minnesota extravaganza known as the Prep Bowl. The Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving will be filled with football at the new home of the Prep Bowl, U.S. Bank Stadium.

The state championship matchups were finalized with 14 semifinal games over three days at the glittering new stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

In the last semifinal of the weekend, Spring Lake Park defeated Mankato West 14-0 Saturday night. The Panthers scored midway through the second quarter when a 2-yard run by Nick Robinson capped a four-play, 58-yard drive. It was a defensive battle after that, with the final score coming on a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown by Luke Onstad with 2:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Here is the Prep Bowl lineup, along with scores from the semifinals…

Prep Bowl
At U.S. Bank Stadium

Friday, Nov. 25

10 a.m., Nine-Man/ Cleveland vs. Grand Meadow
1 p.m., Class 2A/ Caledonia vs. Eden Valley-Watkins
4 p.m., Class 4A/ Winona vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
7 p.m., Class 6A/ Totino-Grace vs. Eden Prairie

Saturday, Nov. 26
10 a.m., Class 1A/ Rushford-Peterson vs. Minneapolis North
1 p.m., Class 3A/ Rochester Lourdes vs. St. Croix Lutheran
4 p.m., Class 5A/ Elk River vs. Spring Lake Park

State 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
Class 1A/ Rushford-Peterson 49, Browerville/Eagle Valley 0
Class 1A/ Minneapolis North 16, Wabasso 8
Class 3A/ Rochester Lourdes 43, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 21
Class 3A/ St. Croix Lutheran 35, Pierz 28
Class 5A/ Spring Lake Park 14, Mankato West 0

Prep Bowl tickets can be purchased in advance at mshsl.org/tickets and also will be available at U.S. Bank Stadium at the northwest corner of the stadium.

Ticket prices for 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: 286
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,938
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Despite Worries, Grand Meadow Wins Again 11/18/2016
Gary Sloan is a worrier, like every other football coach on the planet. And boy oh boy was the Grand Meadow coach worried about Waubun before they met Friday in the Nine-Man state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Grand Meadow is used to playing in big games, as evidenced by the Superlarks’ pedigree. They have won the last three Nine-Man state championships and their 49-game winning streak is the state’s longest current victory streak.

And yet, Sloan worried. Even after his team beat the Bombers 35-0, he still expressed concern about playing them.

“The game was closer than that,” Sloan said. “Waubun is a very, very good football team. They’re so explosive. If we play them three or four times you never know how it’s going to go.”

That may very well be true, but Friday’s game went the way of the Superlarks. Christopher Bain, one of 10 finalists for the Mr. Football award, rushed 23 times for 173 yards and three touchdowns, including a 62-yard burst that made the score 21-0 midway through the third quarter.

Grand Meadow (13-0) ran 48 times for 299 yards while holding Waubun (12-1) to two rushing yards on 26 carries. The Bombers gained 91 passing yards, with Peyton Syverson completing nine of 25 passes.

“I think our defensive coaches had an awesome game plan and the kids did an awesome job implementing the plan,” Sloan said. “Waubun is so quick and so deceptive with all their options, you need a great deal of discipline to defend them.”

The Bombers were fighting injuries, but coach Paul Clark wasn’t looking for excuses.

“When you get to Game 13 everyone’s going to be hurting,” he said. “I’m sure they have bumps and bruises also. They were just bigger, faster and stronger than us today. We just ran into a machine.”

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
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