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John’s Journal: Exceptionally Right Or Terribly Wrong, Lessons are Learned

Competition On The Big Stage Brings Out The Best

Posted: Saturday, November 18, 2023 - 6:05 PM


Players from Stewartville (white uniforms) and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton shake hands after Stewartville’s 28-7 win in the Class 3A semifinals.


North Branch coach Justin Voss.

When games are played, things can go exceptionally right or terribly wrong. Under the best of circumstances, lessons are learned, lessons that go way past sports and deep into life. This week’s state football semifinal football games at U.S. Bank Stadium provided examples of what these community activities mean and what they teach us all.

The football semifinals are a whirlwind of football games. Fourteen games squeezed into three days at the indoor palace in downtown Minneapolis, each of them providing unforgettable moments.

A moment that Jackson County Central sophomore quarterback Roman Voss would like to forget came on the first play from scrimmage in the second half of the Huskies’ Class 2A semifinal loss to Barnesville. The postgame statistical packet includes play-by-play details, and the play on which Roman was injured read like this: “1-10, Jackso31, No Huddle-Shotgun, #2 R. Voss rush left for 1 yard gain to the Jackso32.”

The tackle was clean but Roman’s head slammed into the turf. The game was stopped as he was tended to, and he was taken from the field on a stretcher.

Several hours later, Roman’s father, Rod, posted on Twitter a photo of his son sitting on a hospital bed with the message, “Thanks for the calls texts and prayers. Roman just got released and is doing good.

In the postgame news conference, Jackson County Central coach Tom Schuller stressed what really matters.

“The football game is secondary,” said the Huskies’ 24-year head coach. “The great news is he's cleared, I think. His neck is completely good. So you know we're thankful for that. That's more important than the football game. We're really disappointed to lose that football game but we're really happy he's going to be OK. At the end of the day, if I’ve got to take one or the other I'll take him being OK.”

Hutchinson is a team that plays deep into the postseason seemingly every year, and the Tigers defeated North Branch in the Class 4A semifinals to win a spot in next week’s Prep Bowl against Rocori.

Andy Rostberg, who is in his 25th year as the Hutchinson coach and whose teams have won three state titles, was asked about the pressure that the players feel because of the program’s great tradition. His words were meaningful.

“When delivery is expected, delivery is hard. It's hard to deliver when you win on Friday, you feel really good most of the day Saturday, but then you know what's coming on Monday; they're going to go, ‘Hey, can you do that again for us?’

“And so it's hard with the expectations, when fans will go, ‘If you make it the state title game we’ll come watch.’ Well, that's not easy. It isn't and these kids are crazy good about it. They're so good. And they can deal with the pressure because no foolin’, there's a lot of pressure on these kids.”

Rostberg was sitting in the interview room with seniors Carter Verhasselt, Logan Butler, Andrew Lipke and Anton Kadlec. The coach looked at the kids as he continued …

“There is pressure being from Hutch and the expectations to just always deliver. Is it fair? No, probably not, but it’s life. It's just how it is. And we always say pressure is a privilege. And it's either going to polish you really hard or it's going to pulverize you, just grind you up into powder. And I can guarantee you these four here, we have others, but these four are polished hard. They know how to play football. They know how to win football games late and now we just get to go hang out together for one more week.”

The football team from North Branch has been on the rise in recent years, reaching the Class 4A state quarterfinals a year ago and advancing to the semifinals and their loss to Hutchinson this week. The Vikings’ record over the last three seasons is 27-6.

North Branch lost to Hutchinson 56-28 on Friday, the Vikings’ second loss of the season; they were defeated at Pequot Lakes 42-28 in the season opener and then rattled off 10 consecutive wins.

Vikings coach Justin Voss (no relation to the Voss family from Jackson) is in his sixth year in that position and teaches fifth grade. He’s an Albany native who graduated from Minnesota Duluth and previously coached at Macalester College and Two Harbors High School. Like all the best coaches and teachers, Voss wants his football players to have memorable experiences and grow as individuals.

“Obviously things didn't go exactly what we hoped for certainly, but there are positive things and I think the resilience we had all year showed through today,” he said. “Hutchinson, give it to them, they are a very tough football team.”

Like a lot of teams, the word “Family” is printed on shirts and other apparel for the Vikings. But posting words and working hard to live up to them are not the same thing.

“We're fortunate to play a really fun sport,” Voss said. “And I think with that great fortune we have, we can do more with it. We can make strong connections and impact people's lives and I think that's really important. With family, that only has meaning when guys invest in believing it. And when you see a group of guys invest in our football family and sacrifice for each other and love each other, that's an extremely powerful thing.”

In the interview room, Voss was sitting next to players Jayden Roske, Jacob Robillard and Joseph Donahue. Joseph said, “Everyone has each other's back. Everyone knows if I don't get my guy, the guy next to me is going to pick me up.”

Voss said, “And it's nothing special that we as coaches do, it's really these guys believing it. And when you have strong families, guys care about each other, they trust each other, they're willing to sacrifice for each other and there's this strength that's hard to describe. But you can feel it, and I think that's what's special for me and special for these seniors and these guys. They believe in it so much and you can feel that love and that's all you can ask for, is that love. And these guys do that all year long. I'm extremely proud of that and very fortunate to be their football coach.”

Football State Semifinals


Kingsland 36, Fertile-Beltrami 28

Nevis 35, Ottertail Central 0

Class 1A

Springfield 36, Mahnomen-Waubun 12

Minneota 63, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 6

Class 2A

Barnesville 38, Jackson County Central 23

Eden Valley-Watkins 42, Cannon Falls 24

Class 3A

Stewartville 28, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 7

Annandale 27, Dassel-Cokato 14

Class 4A

Rocori 7, Byron 0

Hutchinson 56, North Branch 28

Class 5A

St. Thomas Academy 42, Alexandria 30

Chanhassen 54, Andover 46

Class 6A

Centennial 20, Lakeville South 13

Edina 28, Eden Prairie 7

Prep Bowl

Friday, Nov. 24

10 a.m. Class 1A: Springfield (12-1) vs. Minneota (13-0)

1 p.m. Class 2A: Barnesville (13-0) vs. Eden Valley-Watkins (12-0)

4 p.m. Class 4A: Rocori (10-2) vs. Hutchinson (10-2)

7 p.m. Class 6A: Centennial (11-1) vs. Edina (9-3)

Saturday, Nov. 25

10 a.m. Nine-Player: Kingsland (13-0) vs. Nevis (12-0)

1 p.m. Class 3A: Stewartville (13-0) vs. Annandale (11-1)

4 p.m. Class 5A: St. Thomas Academy (10-2) vs. Chanhassen (12-0)

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