For the unbiased football fan -- by which I mean anyone whose outerwear doesn't carry the words "Owatonna" or "Huskies" -- the sentimental favorite to win the final high school sporting event in the Metrodome was Brainerd football coach Ron Stolski.
After all, the guy has been a high school head coach for 53 years and has more victories (354) than any coach in Minnesota history. Stolski was one of the architects of the current playoff system, which began in 1972 and became an occupant of the Metrodome when the place was shiny and new in 1982. So it would have been fitting to see Brainerd take home its first state football championship in Saturday's Class 5A Prep Bowl.
But the story is Owatonna, and the Huskies' first-ever state football title is all the more deserving of accolades. Brainerd was playing in its first Prep Bowl and Owatonna had played in four and lost in four. Furthermore, Owatonna played in the first indoor Prep Bowl in 1982 and closed the building with a 24-0 victory over Brainerd on Saturday on the final prep game under the big roof.
Huskies coach Jeff Williams, who was a senior at Rochester John Marshall in 1982, said, "It was 32 years in the making, I guess, and to be able to close out the dome for high school football with a W is pretty cool."
Here's another link from 1982 to 2013: Owatonna senior Aaron Peterson -- who rushed 35 times for 183 yards and two touchdowns Saturday -- is the grandson of the late Jerry Peterson, who was the Huskies coach from 1966-96. Stolski, in fact, was good friends with Jerry Peterson.
"My grandpa coached the 1982 Dome team," Aaron said. "And to be able to come back and say a Peterson was on the first Owatonna team to win a state championship means a lot. I'm so proud to be here."
Owatonna took control of the game quickly. The Huskies' opening drive covered 80 yards in 16 plays and took nearly six minutes off the clock. Peterson capped it with a 3-yard scoring run. He scored on a 1-yard run early in the second quarter for a 14-0 lead ... and the tone was set. Owatonna's defense was solid throughout, holding Brainerd to eight first downs and 89 rushing yards. The Huskies had 369 total yards and they went 7-for-7 on fourth-down conversions.
Last season, Owatonna lost to Totino-Grace 49-21 in the 5A Prep Bowl; Totino-Grace moved up to 6A this season. Before last season, Owatonna's most recent Prep Bowl came in 1998, and Williams talked about the change in attitude at the dome, and throughout the season.
"I don't think they necessarily enjoyed this experience as much as they enjoyed last year," he said. "This year was just all business. There wasn't any wow factor or the little tickle in the back of your neck when we came out of the tunnel into the dome. It was just business for these kids. I'm really happy they're getting to experience winning the last one."
Stolski (pictured) had been flooded with good luck messages during the two weeks between the state semifinals and the Prep Bowl. But he stressed after Saturday's game that this enterprise isn't about him. It's about his team.
"I really appreciate all the well-wishers, I really do," he said. "But honestly, we've won a lot of games, and to pick one over the other ... we've had some great wins. I wanted this, honestly, for our coaches and our kids. But for me, I'm way past it. Honestly.
And he said he'll be back next season, his 54th.
"We're going to coach next year and we're going to bring a bunch of kids along again."
MAHNOMEN: AT HOME IN THE DOME
If any football team is particularly sad to see the Metrodome go, it's the Mahnomen Indians. They have made the dome their second home over the years, and on Saturday they won their second consecutive Class 1A state championship with a 46-13 victory over Dawson-Boyd.
No high school team in the state has played in more Prep Bowls than the Indians, who have done so 13 times. And Saturday's title was their eighth, along with five state runner-up finishes. Their previous championships came in 1980, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1998 and 2012.
Mahnomen's last loss came against Dawson-Boyd in the 2011 Prep Bowl by a 35-20 score. The Indians have not lost since then, with Saturday's victory extending their streak to a current state-best 28 in a row. (The state record for consecutive wins is 76 by Stephen-Argyle from 2003 to 2008).
More numbers cast a bright light on how dominant Mahnomen has been this season. In 14 games, the undefeated Indians outscored their opponents 638-57; that's an average score of 45-4 ... with eight shutouts.
Saturday's game was largely the Pavek and Lefebvre Show, with sophomore quarterback Tom Pavek rushing 24 times for 179 yards and two touchdowns and classmate Kody Lefebvre scoring two TDs on the ground and leading his team with eight tackles.
Dawson-Boyd quarterback Joey Lee set two Prep Bowl records with 51 pass attempts and 27 completions. The previous records were 44 by Ryan Hulke of Nicollet in 1999 and 26 by Chris Meidt of Minneota in 1987.
Blackjacks receiver Michael Lee (Joey's cousin) set a Prep Bowl record with 12 receptions, topping the record of 11 receptions by Eric Hennen of Minneota in 1987. Dawson-Boyd also set a team record for pass attempts with 52; the previous mark was 46 by Nicollet in 1999.
POINTS, POINTS AND MORE POINTS
In the Class 3A Prep Bowl, there were touchdown runs of 68, 67, 35, 48 and 69 yards. There were touchdown passes of 52, 35 (three times), 37 and 28 yards, plus a kickoff return of 64 yards for a score.
The result of that dynamite-enhanced indoor track meet was a 48-44 victory for St. Croix Lutheran over New London-Spicer. It was the Crusaders' second state title in three years.
The 92 total points set a Prep Bowl record. The previous mark was 91 (Triton 70, Luverne 21, 2A in 2006, and Cromwell 49, Lanesboro 42, nine-man in 2010). The teams also combined for 971 yards, with St. Croix Lutheran gaining 572 and New London-Spicer 399.
"There are so many aspects to the game of football and you saw them all today," said Crusaders coach Carl Lemke. "Passing, running, kicking. It's just an exciting time to be around football."
Hans Klingenschmitt led the Crusaders with 22 carries for 177 yards and a touchdown and Trever Koester ran 20 times for 139 yards and two scores. David Ponath completed five of six passes for 155 yards and three TDs.
"We knew they were a really explosive team and they would be tough to contain," Ponath said. "But we knew if we did our jobs and just executed we would hopefully win."
New London-Spicer's Ryan Vraa completed five of 11 passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns, while Adam Essler rushed 21 times for 194 yards and two scores.
This question was posed to Lemke: Was there a sense that the last team to score would win?
"That says it all. We were hoping we could hang on."
--I issued my 20,000th Tweet on Saturday, and it held special significance in relation to the end of the Metrodome. Follow @MSHSLjohn to see it.
--Total Prep Bowl attendance was 31,848, the largest total since 2008 and a great way to go out at the Metrodome.
--Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 45 for the fall state tournaments.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 219
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 5,822
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn