John's Journal
How To Watch Prep Bowl XXXVII On TV, Online11/22/2018
How to watch Prep Bowl XXXVII if you can't make it to U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday or Saturday...

TV: KSTC Channel 45

Webcast: prep45.com

Schedule
Friday, November 23
10 a.m. Nine-Man: Spring Grove (13-0) vs. Mountain Lake (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 2A: Caledonia (12-0) vs. Barnesville (11-2)
4 p.m. Class 4A: SMB (12-0) vs. Willmar (11-1)
7 p.m. Class 6A: Eden Prairie (10-1) vs. Lakeville North 12-0)

Saturday, 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)
In Barnesville, Giving Thanks For More Than Football11/21/2018
There are lots of reasons to give thanks. During this week, which in Minnesota includes Prep Bowl XXXVII as well as Thanksgiving, folks in Barnesville are especially thankful.

One reason? The Barnesville High School football team will play for a Class 2A state championship against Caledonia on Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Another reason? Trojans coach Bryan Strand is still the Trojans coach.

Not that he ever had any doubts. But when the coach suffered a serious stroke last March, people worried about his health even though he never worried about giving up coaching.

“I wasn’t going to let that stop me. It just wasn’t going to,” Strand said after his team defeated Minneapolis North in last week’s state semifinals. “It’s a passion. It’s part of who I am, it’s part of my job.”

The stroke hit Strand on a Saturday night. He and his wife Meg, who have five children, were out playing bingo when the coach began feeling dizzy and started vomiting. He was unconscious at times as he was driven to a hospital, with the right side of his body numb.

Somehow, he left the hospital after only three days. He walked with a cane at first and has undergone therapy. He was with the team when practice began in August; he said he had to sit down at halftime of the first game this season because of high blood pressure, but otherwise he has not missed a beat.

Strand is also the principal at Barnesville, another role he relishes.

“I think I’m a better principal because I’m a football coach,” he said. “I’ve got the respect of the kids, they listen very well, and they’re not going to be out there screwing around because they know they’ll have to come and see me.”

The challenge in Friday’s game is a big one. Barnesville will attempt to win its first football state title against a Caledonia team that is the three-time defending champion and has won 53 games in a row, a streak that is currently the longest in the nation. The Minnesota record is 76 in a row by Stephen-Argyle between 2003 and 2008.

Adam Tonsfeldt, Barnesville’s sophomore quarterback, said of Caledonia, “They haven’t lost in a long time. The last two weeks have been incredible preparation. They’re a good team but I guarantee you we’ll be ready for them.”

Asked about Strand, Adam said, “We were all really devastated when he had his stroke. We went up right away and talked to him. He is such a big part of this team. I guarantee we’re not as good a football team without him. He gives us so much inspiration. He went through a lot and we know we’re going to push ourselves. He wants to do it for us and we want do it for him.”

Junior running back Hunter Anderson smiled as he said, “I don’t think every student can say this, but I love my principal. I think that’s how all our team members feel. That’s the type of coach he is. Everyone loves him.”

And everyone is grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Prep Bowl XXXVII

Friday, November 23

10 a.m. Nine-Man: Spring Grove (13-0) vs. Mountain Lake (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 2A: Caledonia (12-0) vs. Barnesville (11-2)
4 p.m. Class 4A: SMB (12-0) vs. Willmar (11-1)
7 p.m. Class 6A: Eden Prairie (10-1) vs. Lakeville North 12-0)

Saturday, 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
As Fall Season Ends, Lots Of Reminders About What’s Important 11/20/2018
The 2018 Minnesota high school fall sports season will come to an end this weekend with Prep Bowl XXXVII football games at U.S. Bank Stadium. There will be seven state championship contests, capping months of competitions in many sports in which athletes and teams give their all, coaches do everything they can to prepare, and fans follow along with pride and enthusiasm.

It’s not all about winning and losing, as we know. This isn’t professional or college sports, and nobody is involved in high school sports and activities for the money. There are always lessons to be learned, and this fall’s sporting calendar has provided, as prep sports always do, strong reminders of what’s truly important.

Let’s revisit some of the special moments from this fall’s championship calendar, starting with the top cross-country athlete in Minnesota. Minneapolis Washburn senior Emily Covert capped her cross-country career by winning a second consecutive Class 2A championship on Nov. 3 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, and her words afterwards were just as strong as her performance.

“Honestly, I feel so blessed to be able to be here and compete among all these amazing and talented women,” she said. “It’s so humbling to know that there are so many people cheering me on and cheering everyone on. It makes the experience so much more amazing.

“I love Minneapolis. When I was in seventh grade my parents asked if I wanted to transfer to a really strong running school. And I said, ‘No, I want to go to Washburn and I want to help the team at Washburn.’ I know if you talk about it and you get young girls out there, they’re just going to keep on having fun and keep on wanting to do more.”

Pride in your school and your community is special, whether you live in a tiny village in rural Minnesota or the largest city in the state. And that feeling extends way beyond what we consider the prime time activities.

Last weekend inside Stillwater High School, the adapted soccer state tournament was held over two days. In the division for physically impaired athletes, the team from St. Paul Humboldt captured the state title with a 5-4 win over Dakota United. Any championship is a great accomplishment, but how many teams can look back with pride on an entire season in which they played shorthanded?

Adapted soccer rules allow teams to have a maximum of seven players in action at a time. But Humboldt had just five players throughout the season, yet they finished with a record of 11-1, closing with three victories at state.

“We tried and tried and tried to get more players,” coach Mary Bohland told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It was either we didn't play or we played with five, and we played with five. It was hard. We got tired. We had a lot of close games. These guys have been playing together for five years. They know each other and what they can do. We worked. We kept going and going and going.”

At the state volleyball tournament, emotions and tears were a theme on Championship Saturday. After unseeded Medford advanced all the way to the title match before losing, coach Missy Underdahl wiped away tears.

“These aren't tears of sadness,” she said. “These are tears of our season has come to an end, and you’re going to miss these girls so much because it’s just been an incredible season. I’m not having tears of sadness here, it’s tears of the reality that I won’t get to see these girls.”

Last week, the Pierz football team saw its season end with a narrow loss to Rochester Lourdes in the Class 3A state semifinals. After the game, Pioneers senior Reese Kapsner was asked about the memories he will take from high school football.

“Just having fun with your friends and being teammates and having a good team and enjoying the time playing football with your friends,” he said.

On Tuesday, 33-year Pierz coach Leo Pohlkamp (pictured with Kapsner and Alex Gross) announced that Saturday’s game was his last as he transitions into retirement. His career record of 276-84 ranks among the top 15 all-time in state history, but he also knows that winning wasn’t the only thing that mattered. In what became a routine at state semifinals and Prep Bowl games, when the postgame press conferences ended the coach would personally thank every media member in the room for their devotion to high school activities.

After the other Class 3A semifinal last weekend, in which Fairmont beat the Perham Yellowjackets, Perham coach Kyle Knutson was asked about his talented quarterback, senior Jenson Beachy. (They are pictured here.)

“I love him,” the coach said. “A kid like Jenson comes along not too often. I feel blessed to be able to work with him over the past few years and he’s a great example for younger kids and the type of athlete we want on our team. He’s very coachable, he’s a great poised leader. It’s just been a privilege to work with him.”

Asked about the team’s seniors, Knutson said, “This senior class is a bunch of tremendous young men and they’re going to go off and do great things beyond high school, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. I’m indebted to them and I wish them all the best. It’s going to be pretty emotional saying goodbye to those guys. They’re a great group of men and I’m going to miss them.”

Another team that saw a stellar football season end in the state semifinals was Blooming Prairie in Class 1A. Coach Chad Gimbel talked about what made the season special.

“The guys,” he said. “Honestly, practice was fun every single day. Leadership was great, underclassmen leadership was great. I’ve been doing this for 24, 25 years and the No. 1 thing that it takes is chemistry on the team. That’s the most important thing, that’s what these guys had this year.”

Win or lose, year after year, there are always important themes. School pride, community spirit, working hard, fun with your friends, setting an example for others.

The fall season was outstanding.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Lumberyard’s Loss Is BOLD Football’s Gain 11/17/2018
Following a late-October win over Ortonville in the Section 5 playoffs, BOLD football coach Steve Solem told his players that he was retiring at the end of the season, whenever the end arrived.

It hasn’t arrived yet. The Warriors advanced to the Class 1A Prep Bowl with a 37-7 victory over Blooming Prairie on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium, and that means the season will go the distance. And to think, if Solem had used the college degree he earned in lumberyard management from Huron College in South Dakota instead of becoming a teacher and coach, well, that would have been different.

“I could see myself being a lumberyard manager, just sitting there passing out two by fours,” a smiling Solem said after Saturday’s game. BOLD (Bird Island, Olivia, Lake Lillian District) will take a record of 13-0 into Saturday’s 10 a.m. game against Mahnomen-Waubun (12-0).

Solem has spent his entire 33-year high school coaching career at BOLD. He was there when the school district was formed and he helped design the football uniforms. He also has coached boys and girls basketball and softball. His football record of 291-77 ranks among the top 10 in state history; he was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

The Warriors are pursuing their third state championship. BOLD won it all in 1990 and 1991 and finished second in 1992, 1998 and 2014. Another championship would be a great way to close his career, but Solem knows this is about more than winning and losing.

“I don’t think there’s a better way to go out than have these young men lead you to a state finals game,” he said. “Win, lose or draw, we lay it on the line every game. And when we’re done, we look at the scoreboard. If it’s in our favor we like it. If it isn’t we’re not as happy but we know we played as hard as we could.”

A 1978 graduate of Windom High School, Solem played football at Worthington Community College before transferring to study and play football at Huron. He was a graduate assistant coach there for two years before taking a job teaching physical education in Bird Island. He was an assistant football coach for one year before taking over the team.

This year’s team returned nine offensive starters and eight on defense from last season’s 10-1 squad. “We knew we were going to have a decent team,” the coach said.

Some of Solem’s early players are now the parents of current players. He was asked about senior Riley Weis, a 6-foot-1, 300-pound senior lineman who will play in the Minnesota High School All-Star Game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Dec. 15.

“I coached his dad the first year I was there, and his mom was a basketball player who was tougher than a nail. I said, ‘You two should get married.’ And they came up with a 290-pound tackle.”

--Mahnomen/Waubun defeated Springfield 38-0 Saturday. The Thunderbirds and BOLD have been dominant all season long, scoring seemingly at will and rarely giving up points. BOLD, which has trailed only once in 2018, has held all but two opponents to zero points or single digits. The Mahnomen/Waubun Thunderbirds have given up double digits only three times.

--Rochester Lourdes and Pierz have dominated Class 3A, with each winning two state titles in the last four years. Lourdes came out on top Saturday, defeating the Pioneers 25-20 in a game that went down to the wire. Pierz won it all in 2015 and 2017, and the Eagles were champions in 2014 and 2016.

--Fairmont defeated Perham 29-14, moving the Cardinals into a matchup with Rochester Lourdes in Prep Bowl XXXVII at 1 p.m. Saturday. Fairmont’s last Prep Bowl appearance was a runner-up finish in 2011.

--St. Thomas Academy advanced to its fourth Prep Bowl with a 33-21 victory over Bemidji in Class 5A. The Cadets, who won a state title in 1975 and finished second in 2000, 2006 and 2015, will meet defending state champion Owatonna at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Football State Semifinals

Thursday, Nov. 15

Nine-Man: Spring Grove 48, Cromwell-Wright 12
Class 2A: Caledonia 40, Paynesville 6
Class 4A: SMB 23, Waseca 15
Class 6A: Eden Prairie 34, Blaine 14

Friday, Nov. 16
Nine-Man: Mountain Lake Area 42, Mountain Iron-Buhl 8
Class 2A: Barnesville 34, Minneapolis North 20
Class 5A: Owatonna 39, Elk River 8
Class 4A: Willmar 62, St. Paul Johnson 20
Class 6A: Lakeville North 35, Lakeville South 13

Saturday, Nov. 17
Class 1A: BOLD 37, Blooming Prairie 7
Class 1A: Mahnomen/Waubun 38, Springfield 0
Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes 25, Pierz 20
Class 3A: Fairmont 29, Perham 14
Class 5A: St. Thomas Academy 33, Bemidji 21

Prep Bowl XXXVII

Friday, November 23

10 a.m. Nine-Man: Spring Grove (13-0) vs. Mountain Lake (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 2A: Caledonia (12-0) vs. Barnesville (11-2)
4 p.m. Class 4A: SMB (12-0) vs. Willmar (11-1)
7 p.m. Class 6A: Eden Prairie (10-1) vs. Lakeville North 12-0)

Saturday, 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
The Old-School Offense That Fits Minnesota To A T 11/16/2018
The T formation is often said to be the oldest offensive formation in American football and is claimed to have been invented by Walter Camp in 1882. – Wikipedia.

The hottest offense in Minnesota high school football is 136 years old, and Elk River coach Steve Hamilton has become a guru of the T formation. The Elks won the Class 5A state championship two years ago, lost to Owatonna in the 2017 title game and fell to the Huskies 39-8 in Friday’s semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.

And to think, Hamilton began his career as a head coach running a spread offense. But he has long been running the T formation with the Elks and said Friday he has heard from 16 other coaches in Minnesota who wanted to learn about it.

“Some have taken pieces, some are all in,” he said. “That’s why I went to it; we needed something to level the playing field and compete with the teams we had to play with. It’s certainly helped me in my career. I’m sure it’s made my career last longer than I ever thought it would. Twenty-one years as a head coach and I don’t know if I ever thought I would still be coaching at this point.”

Barnesville, which beat Minneapolis North 34-20 in Friday’s Class 2A semifinals, uses the T, as does Lakeville South, which met Lakeville North in the 6A semis in Friday’s last game. The basic T formation is very simple: seven linemen bunched in tight, quarterback under the center and three running backs lined up a row behind the quarterback. (Photo: Elk River on offense.)

“I watched Elk River run theirs and it’s very similar to what we want in our wing T,” said Barnesville coach Bryan Strand. “Misdirection, angle blocks, you don’t have to have gigantic linemen. I emailed (Hamilton) and he was fantastic.

“We went down there and met with him over the summer and he gave me all of their film, he answered questions, he’s been the go-to guy even during the season. He’s just there to help us out. He was smiling really big when we walked through at halftime (leading 28-8) because we run their offense.”

Hamilton said, “Did I ever think I was going to come to Minnesota and suddenly people would come to me about the offense I’m running? It’s been pretty cool.”

Owatonna clearly was prepared for the Elks on Friday. Elk River averaged 44 points and more than 400 rushing yards per game this season; the Elks rushed 45 times for 125 yards in scoring eight points against Owatonna.

“To be able to hold those guys to eight points and actually force them to throw to get their touchdown, we felt like that was a major accomplishment,” said Huskies coach Jeff Williams.

“It’s not really a secret,” Hamilton said. “If you’re really disciplined and you’re better than us up front, and that’s what they’ve been the last two years.”

Elk River’s record over the past three years is 34-4.

“If you would have said 34-4 and a state title, we would all have jumped on that,” Hamilton said. “It’s been an incredible run and this group of kids has been awesome. And it’s really them, the kids do this. This isn’t about the coaches, it isn’t about the families, it’s about the kids. The game’s for the kids and they’ve been incredible kids to coach.”

Hamilton taught and coached in Michigan and Georgia before coming to Elk River in 2011. He used a spread offense in Michigan but ran into issues.

“We found out real quick that if guys can’t get open, they can just pin their ears back and it’s a long night for the quarterback,” he said. He contacted a longtime successful coach there who ran the T and learned about it.

“He’s still the guy I call every week,” Hamilton said, “and every year I show him the Owatonna film and he says, ‘You guys are in trouble.’ ”

Tournament Tidbits

--Mountain Lake Area
junior quarterback Abraham Stoesz had a big day, completing 10 of 16 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown, and rushing 15 times for 102 yards and another score in the Warriors’ 42-8 nine-man win over Mountain Iron-Buhl. The Wolverines advanced to next Friday’s Prep Bowl XXXVII, where they will face defending champion Spring Grove for the nine-man state title.

Mountain Lake Area is a cooperative team with students from Mountain Lake High and Mountain Lake Christian. It’s the third version of Mountain Lake to go to state in football. Mountain Lake High was the Class C state runner-up in 1980, Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin went to state three times between 1991 and 2003 (finishing as 1A runner-up in 2002) and the current Mountain Lake Area program is at state for the fourth time since 2012.

Friday’s game was the Wolverines’ first at U.S. Bank Stadium, and Stoesz was asked about pregame jitters.

“We come out, we’re on the field and we had a little bit of nerves,” he said. “But when the game starts, stick your chest out and turn your nerves into pride.”

--Mountain Iron and Buhl have a tournament history similar to Mountain Lake’s. Mountain Iron High was the Class B state champ in 1972 (the first year of football playoffs) and also went to state in 1973 and 1982. Mountain Iron-Buhl made its sixth state appearance since 1983.

--Barnesville’s victory put the Trojans into the Class 2A Prep Bowl game against three-time defending state champion Caledonia at 1 p.m. Nov. 23.

--Willmar rolled past St. Paul Johnson 62-20 in Class 4A. The Cardinals will face SMB in the Prep Bowl at 4 p.m. Nov. 23.

--In Friday night’s final game, Lakeville North beat Lakeville South 35-13 in Class 6A. North will face Eden Prairie in the Prep Bowl at 7 p.m. Nov. 23.

Football State Semifinal Schedule
At U.S. Bank Stadium

Thursday, Nov. 15

Nine-Man: Spring Grove 48, Cromwell-Wright 12
Class 2A: Caledonia 40, Paynesville 6
Class 4A: SMB 23, Waseca 15
Class 6A: Eden Prairie 34, Blaine 14

Friday, Nov. 16
Nine-Man: Mountain Lake Area 42, Mountain Iron-Buhl 8
Class 2A: Barnesville 34, Minneapolis North 20
Class 5A: Owatonna 39, Elk River 8
Class 4A: Willmar 62, St. Paul Johnson 20
Class 6A: Lakeville North 35, Lakeville South 13

Saturday, Nov. 17
9 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD vs. Blooming Prairie
11:30 a.m. Class 1A: Mahnomen/Waubun vs. Springfield
2 p.m. Class 3A: Pierz vs. Rochester Lourdes
4:30 p.m. Class 3A: Perham vs. Fairmont
7 p.m. Class 5A: Bemidji vs. St. Thomas Academy

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn