John’s Journal: Chatfield’s Backer Doesn’t Look Back, Ignores Statistics
Quarterback Only Focused On Winning A Prep Bowl Title
Posted: Friday, November 18, 2022 - 6:33 PM
Last year was last year and Sam Backer is only looking forward --- to the Class 2A Prep Bowl game in two weeks.
The Chatfield High School senior quarterback led his team to a 27-12 win over Eden Valley-Watkins in Friday’s semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium and the Gophers will aim for their second consecutive state title when they meet Barnesville on Dec. 2.
Backer was sidelined during last year’s Prep Bowl, a 14-13 victory over West Central Area/Ashby. He was flagged for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the state semifinals and was ineligible for the Prep Bowl.
“Obviously, I thought about that going into the game,” Backer said Friday. “I wanted to win this one because I didn't get to last year.”
Lots will be on the line in the Prep Bowl. Chatfield is playing at state for the 10th time, having won championships in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 2013 as well as 2021.
In addition, Backer – who has signed with Minnesota State Mankato -- has an outside shot at setting a state career record for rushing yardage, The record is 7,503 by McLeod West’s Tyler Evans, who ended his career in 2001.
Backer carried the ball 30 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns Friday while also completing seven of nine passes for 55 yards and two scores. He will need 308 rushing yards in the Prep Bowl to match Evans’ record
But don’t think that any of those numbers are on his mind. His only focus is winning a title.
“It makes me more hyped going into it,” he said. “I'm going to be on the field and not on the sideline, so I’m pretty excited. When we get to this point, I don't even think about the stats or anything. I just want to get to that championship and I want to win it this year with my friends on the field. So this means something special to me because I didn't get that last year.”
Barnesville Is Back
Barnesville is loaded with football tradition, as well as numbers. The Trojans have played in three Prep Bowls and will make their fourth appearance after defeating Jackson County Central 41-12 in Friday’s semifinals. They will try to win their first state title, after coming up short in championship games in 1978, 2010 and 2018.
With nearly 50 players on the roster, including 17 seniors who all see the field, Barnesville has a veteran presence. Only two players see action on both sides of the ball, which is rare for a small school.
“We have so many older kids, and then our juniors mix in there, it's a good combination,” said Trojans coach Bryan Strand. “And we got stronger from last year to now. I think that helped and they're hungry.”
Last year the Trojans lost to Chatfield 22-18 in the state semifinals.
“It really helps that we’re fresh all the time,” said senior lineman Tate Inniger. “If we end up scoring we go to the bench and sit down, hydrate and then we're back to it, chipping away, chipping away, making sure that (the opponents) are physically and mentally exhausted.”
Simley’s Peanut Butter And Jelly
In Simley’s 17-16 win over Rocori in Thursday’s Class 4A semifinals, the Spartans ran for 248 yards. Senior Gavin Nelson carried 32 times for 167 yards and senior La’tayvion McCoy-Nunn ran 10 times for 65 yards. Nelson is a 220-pound future University of Minnesota wrestler while McCoy-Nunn is listed at 175 pounds.
“He’s peanut butter and I'm jelly,” McCoy-Nunn said with a smile, “because I'm really shifty and he's just tough.”
Nelson, who won the Class 2A state wrestling title at 220 pounds last winter, said playing football in his senior season made sense, rather than focus solely on wrestling.
“Knowing the success that we had last year, and the team that was coming back and everything that we're going to have going, it was a no-brainer,” he said. “I had to come back and I had to play with my boys. I knew that this was a state championship team. And I'm really excited that two weeks from now we're going to be able to prove that point.”
Fourth-year Simley head coach Chris Mensen was an assistant coach when the Spartans lost to Mankato West in the 2014 Prep Bowl.
“It means a ton,” he said of returning to the championship game. “In 2014 we felt that we had a team that could come in and do a lot of special things. And I think this team might be more talented. I took a look at our program four years ago and we were going in the right direction back then. And I just felt like we had one more step to make, and this (semifinal win) I think has really kind of kind of put the nail in the coffin that we're heading in the right direction. We’ve got one more to go. And I know these guys can play their hearts out and they're going to give it everything they’ve got in that last game. I'm excited to see what they do.”
History was made Friday when M.J. Wagenson of Pine Island became the first female official to work a game in the football state semifinals. She was part of the crew for the Class 2A game between Barnesville and Jackson County Central. M.J. also officiates basketball, volleyball and softball. In 2016 she became the first female official to work at the boys state basketball tournament. Another female football official, Leah Berard of St. Paul, worked a Class 6A state quarterfinal game.
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]
STATE FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS
At U.S. Bank Stadium
THURSDAY, NOV. 17
Nine-Man: Mountain Iron-Buhl 36, Wheaton-Herman-Norcross 15
Nine-Man: Spring Grove 27, Fertile-Beltrami 6
Class 4A: Simley 17, Rocori 16
Class 6A: Maple Grove 14, Lakeville South 7
FRIDAY, NOV. 18
Class 2A: Barnesville 41, Jackson County Central 12
Class 2A: Chatfield 27, Eden Valley-Watkins 12
Class 5A: Elk River 38, Mahtomedi 21
Class 4A: Hutchinson 42, Zimmerman 28
Class 6A: Rosemount 14, Eden Prairie 10
SATURDAY, NOV. 19
9 a.m. Class 1A: Springfield vs. Deer River
11:30 a.m. Class 1A: Fillmore Central vs. Minneota
2 p.m. Class 3A: Fairmont vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton
4:30 p.m. Class 3A: Watertown-Mayer vs. New London-Spicer
7 p.m. Class 5A: Mankato West vs. Rogers