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.
--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.
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
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
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