John's Journal
Sixth-Grade Dreams Become Reality For Bethlehem Academy11/17/2012
Among fans of the Bethlehem Academy football team, a specific T-shirt is very popular. On the back are the words “Keep The Train Rolling – Coach Scott Hanson.”

Scott Hanson has been the Cardinals coach for 10 years and he came into this year’s Class 1A state tournament with a record of 44-49. But after years of so-so football at the little school in Faribault, this has turned into a special season. And the train is really rolling.

To see Bethlehem Academy playing in the Prep Bowl next Saturday might not be a miracle, but consider this: the Cardinals have been knocked out of the section playoffs in the first round on a very regular basis. Over the past eight years, their best record was 5-4 in 2004, and in all those seasons they said buh-bye in the opening round of the postseason.

They improved to 11-2 Saturday with a 29-20 victory over defending 1A state champion Dawson-Boyd at the Metrodome. Their opponent in the Prep Bowl next Saturday will be Mahnomen (13-0), which defeated Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City 26-20 Saturday.

The Cardinals lost their final two games of the regular season, which may have been viewed by some as a bad omen for the Section 1 playoffs. But here they are … and the story began much further back than just this season.

Hanson has a cherished photograph of a bunch of sixth-grade boys who played youth football together and managed to play a game in the Metrodome. Those little boys are now high school seniors, and they have been the driving force behind Bethlehem Academy’s 2012 success.

“It’s not just by accident that this happened,” Hanson said. “No. 1, they’ve worked hard. And No. 2, they believe in each other. They’ve set that tone for us and it started back when they were in elementary school and they’ve worked it all the way through. It’s because of their commitment and their dedication to themselves and to each other. It’s exciting.”

The Cardinals won a grand total of nine games in the previous three years.

“We’ve talked about it,” said senior quarterback Kyle Filzen, who had 44 of his team’s 222 rushing yards Saturday and completed three of nine passes. “Our goal since ninth grade has been to get here. We’ve worked hard in the weight room, on the practice field, and it’s paid off.”

Bethlehem Academy is best-known as a volleyball powerhouse, and when the Cardinals won the Class 1A state volleyball title a week ago it was their sixth since 2002. The football players were unable to watch the volleyball championship match at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul because they were playing Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s a few hours later in Rochester.

“We were all watching on (the webcast),” Filzen said. “That was fun. They come support us, we support them, we have a good relationship. Everybody comes together and supports every sport, every activity. To have success, that just makes it all that much better.”

Bethlehem Academy’s high school enrollment is 195, and athletic director Ed Friesen estimates that 60 percent of the students are involved with football and/or volleyball as athletes, managers or cheerleaders. Those are the only fall sports in which the school fields its own teams; for cross-country, soccer, tennis and swimming, Cardinals athletes are part of cooperative teams with Faribault High School. Three Bethlehem Academy football players also play on the coop soccer team.

When the current senior football players were sixth-graders playing in the Metrodome, they talked about returning as high school athletes. And here they are. The train continues to roll.

FACE IN THE CROWD

I was walking behind one of the end zones between games Saturday when someone in the bleachers hollered, “Hi John!” I looked up at a young man sitting in the second row and said, “Do I know you?” He smiled a big smile and said, “No, but I read your journal.”

It was Austin Buysse, a junior from Minneota. The Vikings’ season ended with a loss to Dawson-Boyd in the Class 1A Section 5 championship game, and Austin had watched Dawson-Boyd fall to Bethlehem Academy on Saturday.

And the next time he hollers out my name, I’ll know who he is.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--What a kick: Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City kicker Lucas Damm has a kicking style that I had never seen before Saturday. On extra points, Lucas takes no steps before kicking; he simply stands on his left foot and swings his right shoe – straight-ahead style – into the ball. And he was two-for-two on extra points Saturday. Well done!

--First pep band song of the day: “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” by the Bethlehem Academy symphony at 8:34 a.m.

--Modern music: The Bethlehem Academy band played Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy” and the Dawson-Boyd orchestra performed Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Good stuff all around.

--Garage rock: One of the great non-traditional Minnesota bands is from Perham. The garage band rocked the Metrodome with guitars, keyboards and vocals. They played some ZZ Top, some Doobie Brothers and absolutely killed it.

--Twitter milestone: During the first football game Saturday morning I noticed that my number of Twitter followers had surpassed 2,500. Amazing. And thanks.

--Facebook milestone: Also Saturday, we reached 8,000 friends on our Facebook page. That is an astounding number for a page that really hasn’t been around very long. Our Facebook page has more friends than any high school governing body Facebook page in the nation with the exception of the Michigan High School Athletic Association. And we’ll catch ‘em!

--See photo galleries from all the state football semifinals at the MSHSL Facebook page.

FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS
Thursday’s Games
Class 2A: Caledonia 26, BOLD 24
Class 2A: Moose Lake/Willow River 27, Jackson County Central 20
Class 4A: Hutchinson 28, Becker 14
Class 6A: Lakeville North 28, Rosemount 14

Friday’s Games
Nine-man: Grand Meadow 61, South Ridge 6
Nine-man: Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley 38, Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke 8
Class 5A: Owatonna 30, St. Thomas Academy 27
Class 4A: Holy Family Catholic 49, Princeton 28
Class 6A: Eden Prairie 21, Wayzata 7

Saturday’s Games
Class 1A: Bethlehem Academy 29, Dawson-Boyd 20
Class 1A: Mahnomen 26, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City 20
Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes 26, Annandale 20
Class 3A: Blue Earth Area 31, Perham 21
Class 5A: Totino-Grace 23, Bemidji 0

PREP BOWL SCHEDULE
Friday, Nov. 23
10 a.m./Nine-man: Grand Meadow (12-1) vs. Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley (12-0)
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, Nov. 24
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: 343
*Miles John has driven: 4,631
(*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
Northfield Wins Class 1A Girls Swimming Title, Two Records Fall11/17/2012
Northfield won two events and captured the Class 1A girls swimming and diving state championship Saturday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. In additon, two records fell at the hands of swimmers from Albert Lea and Mankato West. Read Luke Sleeper's story by clicking here
25 Years Later, Grand Meadow Ready For Return To Prep Bowl 11/16/2012
Grand Meadow’s boys of 1987 aren’t as young as they were back then, when the football team played in the Prep Bowl at the Metrodome. But the memories from 25 years ago remain fresh and they are helping prepare the 2012 Superlarks for a return appearance.

Grand Meadow’s 61-6 victory over South Ridge in Friday’s nine-man semifinals at the Metrodome moved the Superlarks into next week’s Prep Bowl against Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley, which defeated Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke 38-8 Friday. And there are plenty of links between the 1987 team and the 2012 team, including the fact that three of the team captains are the sons of players from the ’87 squad.

“We had a group of 11 seniors, a great group, but we also had some juniors and sophomores who were very good athletes,” said Grand Meadow assistant coach Deke Stejskal, whose son Perry is a current senior captain along with Bryce Benson and Brock Johnson. “This team here kind of mirrors that because we have 10 seniors on this team.

“Back in 1986 we got to the semifinals and we lost against Sherburn-Dunnell. So the next year we knew that if we did what we had to do as far as training in the summer, lifting weights and coming together as a team … and it was a team, just like this one is. Our goal was to get to the state championship and we got to the state championship. We didn’t win the state championship, and 25 years later it still gives you a sour taste in your mouth. So these kids here have a chance to do something that’s never been done in the history of Grand Meadow. “

The 1987 team lost in the Class C Prep Bowl to Minneota 27-7; Minneota also won state titles in 1986 and 1988. Grand Meadow went to state in 1997 and 2009 but has not been back to the Metrodome until now.

“It was great,” said Superlarks quarterback Trenton Bleifus after Friday’s game. “I’ve never played in a place this awesome before. It was amazing.”

Grand Meadow got off to a strong start and just kept going, leading 22-0 after one quarter and 42-0 at halftime. Perry Stejskal scored two first-quarter touchdowns and carried six times before leaving the game. He suffered a knee injury in Week 2 and missed seven games before returning; he reinjured the knee Friday and his status for the Prep Bowl was not known.

Grand Meadow coach Gary Sloan was an assistant coach in 1987, and he wanted this year’s team to get a sense of what it was like to play in the dome. That job fell to Deke Stejskal.

“We really hadn’t talked about it a whole lot until this week, leading up to this game,” he said. “It’s a different experience, especially when you’ve been playing outside. We had a team meeting last night and I told the kids it’s a different beast inside. With the nine-man game you’re playing on special teams, on offense, on defense and it’s important to stay hydrated. And as coaches we talked about getting guys on and off the field just to stay fresh. It helped that we got out to the big lead and we could do that.

“We weren’t satisfied just coming up here, and that was our motto all week: if we’re going to play in the Metrodome we’re going to win in the Metrodome.”

--Jason Montonye scored on two 13-yard runs in Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley’s victory over Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke. C-G-B’s Austin Maanum led all rushers with 25 carries for 180 yards and one score.

SWIMMING/DIVING UPDATE

Over at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center, Albert Lea ninth-grader Lindsey Horejsi was the star of the Class 1A preliminaries Friday. She set a record of 1 minute, 0.43 seconds in the 100 breaststroke. The Class 2A prelims were held Friday evening and the finals in both classes will be held Saturday.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--My favorite nicknames among the teams playing in the state football semifinals:
1. Grand Meadow Superlarks; 2. Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks; 3.Bemidji Lumberjacks; 4. Blue Earth Buccaneers; 5. Holy Family Fire.

--Hurray for Chelsea: 5-foot-5, 120-pound senior wide receiver and defensive back Chelsea Williams saw some action in the final minutes for South Ridge.

--First pep band tune of the day: “The Final Countdown” by the South Ridge band at 8:45 a.m.

--Youngest pep band: The gang from Grand Meadow, which looked an awful lot like an elementary-school band. They sounded great.

--Solid sounds: The orchestra from Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke was especially fun to listen to. They only played before the game and at halftime because – as is customary in small schools – the musicians moved over and sat with the rest of the students during the game. And the band from Owatonna, which I have loved listening to for years, was in fantastic form Friday.

--My favorite banner: “Don’t mess with the bull or you’ll get the horns” … courtesy of fans of the Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke Chargers.

--In other banner news: St. Thomas Academy hung a large banner that read “NOwatonna.” But sportsmanship prevailed and the last seven letters of that sign were folded back onto each other, leaving only “NO” visible.

--Most creative team: While the Lester Prairie Bulldogs didn’t make it to the Metrodome, some of their players sat in the seats behind one end zone and formed themselves into the letters LP. Nice move.

--You Know It’s A Small School When … Large schools often have multi-person video crews, complete with tripods and professional-grade cameras linked to laptop computers. The video personnel during the nine-man game between Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley and Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke was the same for each team: one female student using a hand-held video camera.

Football Semifinals
Thursday’s Games
Class 2A: Caledonia 26, BOLD 24
Class 2A: Moose Lake/Willow River 27, Jackson County Central 20
Class 4A: Hutchinson 28, Becker 14
Class 6A: Lakeville North 28, Rosemount 14

Friday’s Games
Nine-man: Grand Meadow 61, South Ridge 6
Nine-man: Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley 38, Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke 8
Class 5A: Owatonna 30, St. Thomas Academy 27
Class 4A: Holy Family Catholic 49, Princeton 28
Class 6A: Eden Prairie 21, Wayzata 7

Saturday’s Games
9 a.m./Class 1A: Dawson-Boyd (11-1) vs. Bethlehem Academy (10-2)
11:30 a.m./Class 1A: Mahnomen (12-0) vs. Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (9-2)
2 p.m./Class 3A: Annandale (10-1) vs. Rochester Lourdes (12-0)
4:30 p.m./Class 3A: Perham (10-1) vs. Blue Earth Area (11-0)
7 p.m./Class 5A: Bemidji (9-3) vs. Totino-Grace (11-0)

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 333
*Miles John has driven: 4,587
(*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
Owatonna, Holy Family, Eden Prairie Advance To Prep Bowl11/16/2012
In a back-and-forth game that went down to the wire, Owatonna held off St. Thomas Academy 30-27 in the Class 5A football state semifinals Friday at the Metrodome. In 4A, Holy Family Catholic defeated Princeton 49-28. In 5A, Eden Prairie defeated Wayzata 21-7. Read coverage by Luke Sleeper by clicking here
Rematch: Caledonia, Moose Lake/Willow River Will Meet Again In Prep Bowl11/15/2012
Caledonia senior Levi Schmitz had to think for a second or two when I posed this question to him Thursday at the Metrodome: When was the last time you guys were in a game like this?

The two-time defending Class 2A state champions had just defeated BOLD 26-24 in a game that went back and forth and wasn’t decided until the final seconds. Caledonia stretched its winning streak – the state’s longest currently – to 25 games in a row. Their last defeat was against Plainview-Elgin-Millville in the opening game of the 2011season.

So Schmitz had to think. He was surely tired at this point in the day, having returned five kickoffs, one punt, caught two passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, punted four times and recorded seven tackles. Oh, he also blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.

“Oh, uh, against Chatfield in the regular season we won 6-0 so that was close but it wasn’t the exchange of scores like this one,” he said.

Exchange of scores, indeed. Caledonia scored four touchdowns and BOLD had three touchdowns and a field goal but neither scored back-to-back points. Caledonia led 20-17 after three quarters, and sealed the victory when Alex Varney scored on a 4-yard run. Or did they? Tyler Rock scored on a short run for BOLD with 5:06 left, cutting Caledonia’s lead to 26-24. The Caledonia defense held firm after that.

It was the first time Caledonia has given up more than 14 points this season. Last season they have up more than 14 only twice. So seeing an opponent hang two dozen points on the board was something new.

“They had drives, we had drives, but in the last five minutes we dug deep, we had passion and heart and we came out on top,” Varney said.

--In the second 2A semifinal, Moose Lake/Willow River beat Jackson County Central 27-20. A key touchdown was scored by Moose Lake’s Jake Disterhaupt on a 28-yard second-quarter run that put the Rebels ahead 20-13.

When Caledonia and Moose Lake/Willow River meet in the Prep Bowl the day after Thanksgiving, it will be a familiar matchup. Last year Caledonia beat the Rebels 27-0 in the Prep Bowl, and Disterhaupt is ready for the rematch.

“This meant everything to us,” he said. “We would give up anything to get another shot at Caledonia. And we got it. And we’re going to make it happen. We’re going to go out there and do our best and win a state championship.

“We’ll have to step our game up even more. Caledonia has to prove that they’re the best team in the state, and we’re going to play them and we’re going to match ourselves with them.”

Moose Lake/Willow River was also the state runner-up in 2009, losing to Waterville-Elysian Watertown in the Prep Bowl.

“It’s a great feeling getting back into the Prep Bowl,” said Disterhaupt, who rushed 20 times for 105 yards and caught five passes for 68 yards Thursday. “ We just need to go win one.”

HUTCHINSON ADVANCES IN CLASS 4A

Hutchinson, which is no stranger to the state playoffs, led 21-7 at halftime and defeated Becker 28-14. The Tigers will play in the Prep Bowl against the winner of Friday’s Princeton-Holy Family Catholic game. Hutchinson outgained Becker 443-16 on the ground.

I had guessed that Becker and Hutchinson had probably faced each other several times, including in the Metrodome. But no. Coaches Andy Rostberg of Hutchinson and Dwight Lundeen of Becker said this was their first meeting.

Hutchinson is making its 20th appearance in the state playoffs and the Tigers won state championships in 1983, 1984 and 1998 and took second in 2003. Becker was making its 13th state appearance. The Bulldogs won a championship in 2005 and finished second in1990, 1994, 2001 and 2006.

LAKEVILLE NORTH TOPS ROSEMOUNT IN 6A

Jamiah Newell scored two touchdowns and rushed 14 times for 103 yards as Lakeville North moved to the Prep Bowl with a 28-7 victory over Rosemount in a battle of South Suburban Conference teams.

North outgained Rosemount 181-20 on the ground and 148-83 through the air. The Panthers will face either Wayzata or Eden Prairie in the Prep Bowl; those teams will meet Friday night.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--This has been a big fall season for Caledonia, and especially for the Fruechte family. Carl Feuechte is an assistant football coach (and former head coach) whose son Isaac is a wide receiver at the University of Minnesota. While the Gophers were clinching a bowl berth last Saturday, Maria Fruechte was helping the Caledonia volleyball team finish as the Class 2A state runner-up. Maria will play collegiate volleyball at Iowa State.

--Other volleyball/football connections: Bethlehem Academy won the 1A volleyball title and the Cardinals’ football team will meet Dawson-Boyd in the 1A semifinals on Saturday. Lakeville North defeated Eden Prairie in the 3A volleyball title match last Saturday, and their football teams are both in the 6A semifinals.

--First pep band tune of the day: Green Day’s “Holiday” performed by the band from BOLD at 11:04 a.m. I approve.

--Photos from the football semifinals can be viewed at the MSHSL Facebook page.

Thursday’s Games
Class 2A: Caledonia 26, BOLD 24
Class 2A: Moose Lake/Willow River 27, Jackson County Central 20
Class 4A: Hutchinson 28, Becker 14
Class 6A: Lakeville North 28, Rosemount 7

Friday’s Games
9 a.m./Nine-man: South Ridge (11-1) vs. Grand Meadow (11-1)
11:30 a.m./Nine-man: Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke (10-1) vs. Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley (11-0)
2 p.m./Class 5A: St. Thomas Academy (10-1) vs. Owatonna (11-0)
4:30 p.m./Class 4A: Princeton (8-4) vs. Holy Family Catholic (9-3)
7 p.m./Class 6A: Wayzata (9-1) vs. Eden Prairie (9-2)

Saturday’s Games
9 a.m./Class 1A: Dawson-Boyd (11-1) vs. Bethlehem Academy (10-2)
11:30 a.m./Class 1A: Mahnomen (12-0) vs. Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (9-2)
2 p.m./Class 3A: Annandale (10-1) vs. Rochester Lourdes (12-0)
4:30 p.m./Class 3A: Perham (10-1) vs. Blue Earth Area (11-0)
7 p.m./Class 5A: Bemidji (9-3) vs. Totino-Grace (11-0)

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 323
*Miles John has driven: 4,543
(*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