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.
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
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
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