Bryan Strand saw the script unfolding. It would be one of the great cliffhangers of all time, with the underdog pulling off the upset and a wild celebration ensuing all the way from U.S. Bank Stadium back to Barnesville, 210 miles up Interstate 94.
The coach could see it. His Barnesville Trojans were going to come out on top in Friday’s Class 2A Prep Bowl matchup with Caledonia, the team that had won the last three state titles and came in with a 53-game winning streak.
The halftime score was Caledonia 7, Barnesville 0. The score after three quarters? Caledonia 7, Barnesville 0. Strand could see the finish in his mind.
“It felt like a movie,” he said. “It felt like it was meant to be. It was going to happen, we were going to find a way to win it. I figured we were gonna win that sucker 8-7.”
Caledonia, however, flipped the script by scoring 14 points in a 61-second span of the fourth quarter. The knockout punch came when the Warriors’ Payton Schott returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown to seal Caledonia’s 21-0 victory.
The Warriors are the most dominant football program in Minnesota right now, and the folks from Barnesville knew their boys were not favored to win. The Trojans, in the school’s sixth trip to state, almost cleared the final hurdle before taking home their third runner-up finish (the others were in 1978 and 2010).
“I thought our kids just had a ton of grit today,” Strand said. “They didn’t let up. We made some mistakes. They’re kids, they’re going to make mistakes. But they made this coach pretty dang proud.”
The boys, as well as the community, are just as proud of their coach. He has lived a whirlwind life since suffering a stroke last March. A hospital stay was followed by rehab, using a cane to get around, not being allowed to drive, etc. But he was ready when football practice started, even if his health situation isn’t yet resolved.
Next week, Strand, 45, will undergo heart surgery. After the stroke, tests revealed a hole in his heart that led to the stroke. He feels very fortunate.
He tried to hug as many of his players (pictured above) as possible Friday. They were understandably downcast after falling short of their goal, but their coach reminded them of what they had accomplished together.
“It’s the journey with these kids that you’re going to remember,” he said. “It’s not so much the end result. … our kids prepared for this game as well as they could have.
“The end result isn’t what we wanted but the journey, I think, is the most important part of it.”
Strand has been wearing a red hat during games, which doesn’t fit with the school colors of purple, gold and white. But he has a good reason for wearing a hat that bears the words “Carlin Railroaders.”
Carlin High School is in Nevada. The Railroaders football coach is Myron Branning, who was Strand’s college teammate at Mayville State in North Dakota. Branning is dealing with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
If this is a movie, it’s quite a script.
Spring Grove 40, Mountain Lake Area 18
The Lions captured their second consecutive Nine-Man championship, stretching their unbeaten streak to 28 games over two years. Spring Grove’s last loss was to Grand Meadow in the 2016 Section 1 playoff finals.
Spring Grove quarterback Alex Folz (pictured) finished his high school football career in style, carrying the ball 30 times for 257 yards and four touchdowns, including scores of 88 and 50 yards. He also completed 10 of 19 passes for 90 yards while being intercepted three times (he was picked off only five times in the previous 13 games this season).
Mountain Lake quarterback Abraham Stoesz ran 21 times for 241 yards and two touchdowns while completing 12 of 27 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.SMB 44, Willmar 18
SMB, a Twin Cities cooperative team with players from St. Paul Academy and Summit School, Minnehaha Academy and Blake, led 24-12 at halftime and held off the Cardinals. SMB’s Jalen Suggs completed nine of 11 passes for 216 yards and three scores, rushed 23 yards for a TD and returned an interception 97 yards for another touchdown. Willmar’s Drey Dirksen completed 10 of 19 passes for 149 yards and two scores.Lakeville North 28, Eden Prairie 21
The Panthers defeated Eden Prairie for the second time in 2018, the first coming in a 14-0 decision in the second week of the regular season. Raja Nelson scored touchdowns for Lakeville North on runs of 5, 1 and 10 yards. It was the first state football title for North; when the school was Lakeville High (before Lakeville South opened in 2005), it won three championships.Tournament Tidbits
--The Mountain Lake Area team includes a second and third generation of football coaches and players. Dan Brinkman was a longtime assistant coach at Hutchinson who retired a couple of years ago to watch the Mountain Lake Wolverines. His son Nate Brinkman is the team’s defensive coordinator and his grandson Mace Herrig is a two-way player.
--Mountain Lake Area senior Regan Syverson has been busy. Following last Friday’s state semifinal, he returned home to play the lead role in the school play, “High School Musical,” on Saturday and Sunday. His character, Troy, is the star of the basketball team who ends up trying out for, and getting, the lead role in the school play, scheduled for the same day as the championship basketball game.
--Eden Prairie senior lineman Josh Rahman, who has epilepsy, advocates for others with epilepsy and helps create epilepsy awareness through a campaign he has created called EPforEpilepsy. He raised has more than $1,000 for the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota.Prep Bowl XXXVII
Friday, November 23
Nine-Man: Spring Grove 40, Mountain Lake Area 18
Class 2A: Caledonia 21, Barnesville 0
Class 4A: SMB 44, Willmar 18
Class 6A: Lakeville North 28, Eden Prairie 21Saturday, Nov. 24
10 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD (13-0) vs. Mahnomen/Waubun (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes (13-0) vs. Fairmont (11-1)
4 p.m. Class 5A: Owatonna (12-0) vs. St. Thomas Academy (12-0) Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn