John's Journal
If This Was The End, Eden Prairie’s Grant Went Out In Style11/24/2012
Eden Prairie rolled to the Class 6A football state title with a 28-7 victory over Lakeville North. Speculation centered on whether it was the final game at Eden Prairie for coach Mike Grant. Read Brian Jerzak's story by clicking here
Mahnomen: Where Adding To The Tradition Is A Tradition11/24/2012
Mahnomen football coach John Clark Jr. had a little talk with his players Saturday morning. The Indians would be facing Bethlehem Academy for the Class 1A state championship at the Metrodome in a couple of hours, and Clark wanted to remind the boys about their program’s tradition.

He wanted them to think about it … then forget about it and just play football.

This is Mahnomen’s 21st appearance in the state football playoffs. That’s more than Hutchinson (20) and Eden Prairie (16). Of all the teams in all the classes who went to state this year, only Totino-Grace (22) has been here more often than the Indians. (St. Thomas Academy also made it to state for the 21st time.)

There are some aging ex-footballers in Mahnomen who remember 1974, the first time the Indians went to state. They tell tales of state championships in 1980, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1998 and state runner-up finishes in 1979, 1982, 1985, 1989 and 2011.

Clark wanted his players to keep everything in proper perspective; not too much pressure but plenty of incentive.

“(Tradition) is important but when I talked to the kids this morning, I said, ‘Let’s respect that tradition but this is our team and our time. Let’s add to it.’ The best thing you can do to respect the tradition is add to it. I thought we did that.”

No one will argue. The Indians put on a ball-control show, knowing that the best way to keep Bethlehem Academy’s quick feet and rapid-fire offense from scoring was to turn the Cardinals offense into 11 spectators.

Mahnomen’s first drive covered 74 yards in 10 plays, swallowing more than five minutes of game time. The Indians also had a 96-yard, 19-play scoring drive and one that didn’t result in points but covered 60 yards in 17 plays and lasted almost 10 minutes.

“That’s exactly what our plan was,” said senior quarterback Jacob Pavek, who rushed 23 times for 151 yards and two touchdowns. “Long drives, three or four yards a pop, first downs, limited turnovers. We had a couple turnovers but our defense made up for it. Our game plan was to shove it right down their throats and that’s what we did.”

Clark said, “As coaches we talked about playing a little game of keep-away. You draw up a plan and you hope, and boy did they execute it. They just executed so well; our offensive line, our quarterback was pretty much flawless on his reads. It was maybe boring to some people but it was poetry in motion to us.”

The numbers – not just on the scoreboard – tell the story. Mahnomen had the ball for 31 minutes, 20 seconds to 16:40 for the Cardinals. The Indians ran 65 plays, the Cardinals ran 37. The total yardage was 318 to 162.

“Kids can do extraordinary things,” Clark said. “Things like heart and guts get overused a lot but I thought that’s our our kids showed. A lot of our kids played both ways and they really gutted it out. I’m proud of what they did.”

In last year’s Prep Bowl Mahnomen lost to Dawson-Boyd 35-20. Dawson-Boyd was the team that Bethlehem Academy defeated 29-20 a week ago in the state semifinals, showing a very impressive quick-strike offense.

“They were fast, we knew that,” Pavek said. “We had to shut down their running game, limit their passes, limit their big plays, and that’s what we did.”

CELEBRATION TO REMEMBER

After Blue Earth Area defeated Rochester Lourdes 30-7 in the Class 3A title game, the party got started on the Buccaneers’ side of the Metrodome. The grins, the hugs, the tears of joy … it was something to behold.

The happiest person – although he held his emotions pretty well in check on the field -- might have been Blue Earth coach Randy Kuechenmeister. He has been the head coach there for 22 years; the Buccaneers made prior trips to state in 1972, 1990, 2006 and last season but had never won a state title.

“It’s been an unbelievable year,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the kids. The kids have worked hard, they’re a very unselfish group. They epitomize what ‘team’ is all about. They do their job and they’ve done it every week. I’m very proud of them.”

Holding the state championship trophy in his arms, Kuechenmeister was asked how it felt. He hesitated, and you had the sense that tears were not far off.

“I’m just proud, proud of the kids and what they’ve accomplished,” he said. “I’m a little overwhelmed, I suppose, with the whole thing. Never in my wildest imagination did I think we’d win 13 games, go undefeated and win the state. What a credit to the kids. It’s more than I could ever imagine. I’m extremely, extremely proud of them. “

Congratulations to all the teams.

HALFTIME HIGHLIGHT

In 1982, the very first Prep Bowl game at the Metrodome featured teams from Le Center and Mahnomen. Players, coaches and cheerleaders from those two teams were honored at halftime of Saturday’s Class 3A Prep Bowl contest.

The teams lined up on the field and everyone was introduced by name. Many of the players wore their school’s jerseys and the cheerleaders brought pom-poms. The Mahnomen old-timers had an especially grand day, having watched the current Mahnomen team win a state title earlier in the day.

The lines of two teams met at midfield and “Good game!” was heard several times as the one-time opponents shook hands.

Le Center won the 1982 Class B state title with a 12-6 victory over Mahnomen. Other scores from the first Prep Bowl were: Stillwater over Owatonna 34-27 in Class AA; Brooklyn Center over East Grand Forks 30-8 in Class A; Truman over Belgrade 16-14 in Class C; and Westbrook over Hillcrest Lutheran 34-12 in nine-man.

--Photo galleries from all the Prep Bowl games can be viewed on the MSHSL Facebook page.

PREP BOWL XXXI
Friday
Nine-man: Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley 40, Grand Meadow 22
Class 2A: Caledonia 25, Moose Lake/Willow River 22
Class 4A: Hutchinson 67, Holy Family Catholic 7
Class 6A: Eden Prairie 28, Lakeville North 7

Saturday
Class 1A: Mahnomen 20, Bethlehem Academy 14
Class 3A: Blue Earth Area 30, Rochester Lourdes 7
Class 5A: Totino-Grace 49, Owatonna 21

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 344
*Miles John has driven: 4,719
*Diet soft drink count: 3
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
Blue Earth Area, Totino-Grace Capture State Titles11/24/2012
Blue Earth Area broke open a close game and sailed to a 30-7 victory over Rochester Lourdes in the Class 3A Prep Bowl. Totino-Grace rolled past Owatonna 49-21 for the Class 5A title. Read Luke Sleeper's coverage by clicking here.
Prep Bowl XXXI Has Arrived11/23/2012
It's a big weekend of football at the Metrodome, and we'll have full coverage here on John's Journal as well as the MSHSL Facebook page and on Twitter by following @MSHSLjohn.

Here is the lineup of games...

Friday
Nine-man: Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley 40, Grand Meadow 22
1 p.m./ Class 2A: Caledonia (12-0) vs. Moose Lake/Willow River (13-0)
4 p.m./Class 4A: Hutchinson (12-0) vs. Holy Family Catholic (10-3)
7 p.m./Class 6A: Lakeville North (11-1) vs. Eden Prairie (10-2)

Saturday
10 a.m./Class 1A: Bethlehem Academy (11-2) vs. Mahnomen (13-0)
1 p.m./Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes (13-0) vs. Blue Earth Area (12-0)
4 p.m./Class 5A: Owatonna (12-0) vs. Totino-Grace (12-0)
The Kick, The Victory, Another State Title For Caledonia11/23/2012
Caledonia senior Levi Schmitz has been kicking field goals since he was in elementary school. Until Friday, he had never kicked a game-winner. When I asked Warriors coach Brent Schroeder about the last time his team won a game on a field goal as time ran off the clock, he thought … and hesitated … and thought some more.

“I believe it was maybe against … It was a Three Rivers (Conference) game, I think … it would have been a good eight … oh man, it’s probably the late 90s.”

Two things about Caledonia’s football dominance: 1) They rarely win with such tick-tock heroics, because they generally win big. 2) They have now won three state championships in a row, capped by Friday’s 25-22 Class 2A Prep Bowl victory over Moose Lake/Willow River.

Schroeder called timeout with one second left in regulation so Schmitz could line up for a 24-yard kick. As the Warriors got set, Moose Lake/Willow River coach Dave Louzek used his final timeout to ice Schmitz. Didn’t work. His kick was through the middle and mayhem ensued.

“My nerves were pumping, my heart was going,” he said. “I’ve been kicking field goals since sixth or seventh grade and I know how it’s supposed to feel coming off my foot. And that’s exactly how it felt.”

It was the first winning kick of his life, too.

“That was my first one,” he said. “I’ve been thinking of all the scenarios that can happen. If we need a game-winning drive, if we need one huge Hail Mary pass, if we need a field goal kick, I’ve gone through it all in my head numerous times. It happened like I hoped it would.”

The game was a rematch of last year’s Prep Bowl, when Caledonia defeated Moose Lake/Willow Rover 27-0.

While the Warriors were moving their celebration into the locker room, a heart-tugging scene took place on the Moose Lake/Willow River sideline. Louzek was locked in a lengthy, tearful embrace with the star of his team, senior Jake Disterhaupt. One of 10 finalists for the Minnesota Mr. Football award, Disterhaupt has been a fixture for the Rebels for years.

ALL THE HARD WORK PAYS OFF

Brian Dahl and Steve Jipson have been the co-head football coaches at Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley for nine years. There were some lean early seasons, when finishing with a .500 record was an accomplishment.

Looking back, however, after the Wolverines defeated Grand Meadow 40-22 in the nine-man Prep Bowl game to win their first state football championship, you could see this coming. Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley’s record from the start of the 2008 season to the end of the 2011 campaign was 42-5, and that kind of success breeds, well, success.

One key came in 2008, when the Wolverines lost to Houston in the Prep Bowl. Another key came in 2009, when the Wolverines played in the Metrodome again, losing in the semifinals to Stephen-Argyle. The current players remember watching those contests in the Metrodome. And this season they were a perfect 13-0.

“These kids were here for those games and they saw what this is like,” Dahl said. “They have worked hard to get here.”

This year’s team will lose some talented seniors, but look for the Wolverines to begin the 2013 season with high expectations. Running back Jason Montonye scored three touchdowns Friday, running back Austin Maanum scored two and quarterback Damon Gibson had one score. All three are juniors.

--Grand Meadow and Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley combined to score 99 points in last week’s semifinals, but that kind of firepower was not to be seen early in Friday’s game. The game was scoreless after one quarter, with Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley holding a 20-0 lead at halftime.

Maanum rushed 20 times for 185 yards and two touchdowns, and Montonye carried 13 times for 126 yards and two touchdowns. The Wolverines totaled 393 rushing yards.

Grand Meadow’s Trenton Bleifus completed 18 of 28 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns. Mike Ojulu caught a pair of touchdown passes and Landon Jacobson caught seven passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--With Hutchinson’s 67-7 win over Holy Family in the Class 4A Prep Bowl, the Tigers are believed to be the first school to win football titles under father and son coaches. Grady Rostberg did so in 1983, 1984 and 1998 and son Andy is the current coach.

--Weather Thoughts: Take a look at the current weather and imagine if this weekend’s Prep Bowl games were being played outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium. Well, in a couple of years these games will be played outdoors after the Metrodome is torn down and before the new stadium is built. That’s reason enough to see why the high school football season should end a week or two before Thanksgiving weekend as long as the Prep Bowl is an outdoor event.

--Final Whistle: Bryce Pack was the referee during the nine-man championship game, ending a 34-year career as a football official. Pack, the athletic director at Red Rock Central in Lamberton, will remain certified as an official in case the need to fill in comes up in future years, but the Prep Bowl was his final official game. Bryce’s son Colby was on his crew Friday and another son, Casey, worked a semifinal game last week. In the 6A game between Eden Prairie and Lakeville North, officials Pat Whalen and Bill Merritt worked their final games before retiring. It was Whalen’s fourth Prep Bowl and Merritt's fifth.

--Total Class: One officiating crew had the distinction of working at least one game involving teams in every class, from nine-man to 6A, this season. The Fergus Falls-based crew of John Klinnert, Derrick Nelson, Timothy Rogelstad, Eric Guler and Isaiah Godding ended their season with a Class 4A state quarterfinal game between Holy Family and Hill-Muray at Macalester College.

--Quotable: After Caledonia held off BOLD 26-24 in last week’s Class 2A semifinals, Caledonia’s Schroeder was asked by the LaCrosse Tribune’s David Griswold about battling against the larger BOLD linemen: “Those guys were huge. Their Xs were bigger than our Os.”

--Big Sendoff: With the Thanksgiving holiday, the fans in Grand Meadow were unable to hold a send-off for the football team at the school, so they did something that was extra neat. A stretch of highway coming out of town was blocked off from cross traffic Thursday and everybody parked alongside the road and serenaded the team as it rolled past on a school bus, headed toward the Twin Cities.

--First Cheer: The Metrodome doors opened to fans at 9 a.m., and a couple minutes later folks from Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley shouted “Go big blue!” There was a pretty good echo in the mostly empty dome.

PREP BOWL XXXI
Friday
Nine-man: Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley 40, Grand Meadow 22
Class 2A: Caledonia 25, Moose Lake/Willow River 22
Class 4A: Hutchinson 67, Holy Family Catholic 7
Class 6A: Eden Prairie 28, Lakeville North 7

Saturday
10 a.m./Class 1A: Bethlehem Academy (11-2) vs. Mahnomen (13-0)
1 p.m./Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes (13-0) vs. Blue Earth Area (12-0)
4 p.m./Class 5A: Owatonna (12-0) vs. Totino-Grace (12-0)


BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 344
*Miles John has driven: 4,675
*Diet soft drink count: 5
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn