Wayzata football coach Brad Anderson was walking down the Metrodome tunnel that leads to the field, 20 minutes or so from the start of the Class 5A state championship game. I was walking up the tunnel, headed back to the press box.
I was ready to offer Brad a quick “Good luck” and say little else, because coaches tend to be concentrating on the task at hand at such times. But Brad stopped me, shook my hand, smiled and said, “How’s the job going?”
A few minutes before that encounter, I was walking around the perimeter of the field while Wayzata and Rosemount were warming up. One of the volunteer coaches at Wayzata is Tim McNiff, morning anchor at KARE-11 TV. I’ve known Tim for a long time, going back to when he was a sports reporter.
Tim, who coaches running backs, was putting his guys through pregame drills when he sprinted over to me on the sideline, shook my hand and said with a big smile, “You clean up real good!” I was wearing a jacket and tie, meaning there was no end to the comments along those lines I heard Saturday at the dome.
It’s a little bit astounding when you think about it. These coaches, preparing for a game that most coaches only dream about, smiled and shook hands with a guy who was just walking around. I wasn’t surprised by this, because I have known Brad and Tim so well for so long, and there are no better people.
I think maybe it comes down to a simple word: joy. They take such joy in what they do, and that goes far beyond simply coaching football. They lead young people, they set a great example, they treat everybody right. And they’re never too busy or too occupied to offer a friend a handshake and a smile.
This is one of the million and one reasons why high school activities are so special.
Wayzata went on to have a big night, defeating Rosemount 31-14 and taking home the state title. Sophomore Mitchell Underhill was the star for the Trojans, rushing 12 times for 247 yards and four TDs.
The Trojans and their fans celebrated in great style afterwards, and you can see photos and video of the postgame scene on the MSHSL Facebook page.
I DON’T KNOW the name of the young lady who served as the Cromwell Cardinals’ mascot during today’s Nine-Man football state championship game. But her reaction to the Cardinals’ state title was priceless, and it summed up what these events mean to the people who share the wins and the losses with their teams.
She lifted the large costumed head off her own head and absolutely shrieked in delight. And there was plenty to scream about for fans of both teams. Cromwell’s 49-42 victory went down to the wire, and a handful of Prep Bowl records were set in the game.
The individual star was Cromwell senior quarterback Jordan Suhonen. He set Prep Bowl records for the longest run (86 yards), most rushing yards (374), most rushing TDs (5) and highest rushing average (13.4). The teams’ combined 91 points tied a record set by Triton and Luverne in 2006 when Triton beat Luverne 70-21 in the Class 2A title game.
Cromwell’s victory capped one of the great turnarounds in high school sports. The Cardinals’ record was 2-4 with two games remaining in the regular season. That’s right: 2-4. They finished the regular season 4-4 and were the No. 3 seed in a section that has only five teams.
But here they are today, taking home a state title.
“At 2-4 we were down in the dumps,” coach Jeff Gronner said. “The coaches were frustrated, the players were frustrated. We were not a good team.”
Earlier this week, Gronner said this to Rick Weegman of the Duluth News Tribune: “Sometimes if you don’t reach goals, it can be seen as a disappointment even if it really isn’t just because expectations are so high. That’s how this season started out, as a huge disappointment, but even at 2-4 I told them, ‘All of our goals that we set are still out there. You can still accomplish every goal, but it’s going to take some effort.’ ”
They’ll now go down in history as a great team, a state championship team. Keep screaming, Cardinals.
--New Ulm Cathedral won the second game of the day, beating Barnesville 19-13 in a defensive-minded Class 1A game. Cathedral starting quarterback Kevin Larson was injured late in the first half and did not return, replaced by Nick Simon and Drew Pfaff. The backups QB got the job done and Eric Hauser rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns for Cathedral.
--In the 2A game, Caledonia defeated Triton 28-7.
--In the midst of the 91-point Nine-Man game, I posted this on Twitter: “We have a theme going: 1. Kickoff. 2. Long TD run. 3. Repeat.”
--Banner hanging on the Lanesboro side of the field: “OMG … This is HUGE.”
--How small is a Nine-Man football squad? Cromwell had only 21 players in uniform.
--Diet Coke Count: 7