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John’s Journal: From Fall Sports To Winter Sports, In A Hurry

Minneota Coach Is Used To Quick Turnaround From Season To Season

Posted: Friday, November 24, 2023 - 7:43 PM


Players from Eden Valley-Watkins with the Class 2A state championship trophy.


The Minneota Vikings celebrate their Class 1A championship.

If there’s a dynasty in Class 1A football, Minneota fits the bill. The Vikings won their second consecutive state championship Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium, as well as their eighth all-time. Minneota defeated Springfield 43-22, one year after the same teams met in the 2022 Prep Bowl. In that game, the Vikings defeated the Tigers 28-21.

Minneota’s previous championships came in 1986, 1987, 1988, 2009, 2014, 2015 and 2017. Chad Johnston has been the Vikings head football coach for 22 years, and this year, as has long been the custom, he will quickly transition to another sport.

Johnston, the father of young sons, was the Minneota head girls basketball coach for 21 years before taking over the boys coaching duties last season. He is well-accustomed to switching from one sport to another, and one benefit of coaching boys basketball is the calendar.

Girls basketball practice began on Nov. 13 and the first date for games to be played was Nov. 22. On the boys side, practice started Nov. 20 with the first possible games on Nov. 30. The original season opener for the Minneota boys team was Dec. 4 at BOLD but that game has been rescheduled for Dec. 22. The first boys basketball game is now scheduled for Dec. 8 at Canby.

“I have to change gears right away and I'm very fortunate that that's a problem that I have to deal with right now,” Johnston said.

The End Can Be Emotional

For the seniors on the Minneota football team, Friday’s game marked the end of a lengthy, successful run. Since the start of the 2020 season (which was shortened due to Covid), the Vikings have an overall record of 47-3. They were 14-0 this season.

Minneota senior Sawyer DeSmet, who caught three passes from Ryan Delager for 63 yards and had a team-high nine tackles (as did Kellen Bradley), wore a big smile after the game.

We've been here for the last three years in a row and it's just a crazy experience to be able to come here that many times,” he said. “This one felt a little different for me and (the other seniors). It's our last one and you’ve got the happiness that you wanted. I was really emotional that I'm done; you're done playing high school football.”

--Minneota's Ryan Meagher tied a Prep Bowl record with five rushing touchdowns. The previous players to do so were Jordan Suhonen of Cromwell in 2010, Jason Williamson of Owatonna in 2017 and Christian Vasser of Wayzata in 2019.

Prepping For Size And Speed

After Eden Valley-Watkins defeated defending state champion Barnesville 24-6 in the Class 2A title game, Barnesville coach Bryan Strand said he knew that the Eagles were a tall, fast team. In preparation for that, the Trojans reached out to former athletes from North Dakota State and Minnesota State Moorhead, and worked out with them in North Dakota State’s indoor practice facility. The players brought in included Strand’s son Michael, a former football player at Minnesota State Moorhead.

“They’re a great team, they’re very well-coached,” Bryan Strand said of Eden Valley-Watkins. “Our guys fought all the way to the end.”

--Eden Valley-Watkins’ Nolan Haag tied a Prep Bowl record with three interceptions. Others with three Prep Bowl INTs were Pete Roback of Anoka in 1990, Mark Olsonawski of Kittson Central in 1994, Mason Hansen of Cromwell in 1998, Tyler Drinkall of Rushford-Peterson in 2004, Matt Risinger of Minnetonka in 2004, Evan Robertson of Dawson-Boyd in 2011 and Dawson Brown of Becker in 2014.

The Family That Wins Together

When Hutchinson defeated Rocori 14-6 in the Class 4A Prep Bowl Friday, the result broke a family tie on the Tigers coaching staff. Grady Rostberg became the head coach in 1970 and held the job for 29 years before his son Andy took over.

Under Grady, Hutchinson won state titles in 1983, 1984 and 1998 (Andy played on the first two teams and was an assistant coach for the third). With Friday’s win, Andy now owns four state championships as head coach (2012, 2013, 2021 and 2023).

“And nobody’s happier than he is,” Andy said of his father. “No, wait, my mother’s happier.”

History for Centennial

Centennial made history by winning its first state championship with a 28-27 win over Edina in Class 6A. The Cougars, making their sixth trip to state this season, were Class A runner-up in 1984 and also went to state in 2004, 2009, 2019 and 2022.

Edina, which had a 5-3 record in the regular season, saw its lengthy winning streak end. The Hornets were attempting to match the 1978 team from Edina West, which owns the only state title in school history. Edina also went to state in 1981, 2012 and 2017.

An Officiating First

During Friday’s Class 1A game, M.J. Wagenson of Pine Island became the first female to work on an officiating crew at the Prep Bowl. Wagenson, a multi-sport official, had worked in the state semifinals previously.

2023 Prep Bowl

Friday, Nov. 24

Class 1A: Minneota 43, Springfield 22

Class 2A: Eden Valley-Watkins 24, Barnesville 6

Class 4A: Hutchinson 14, Rocori 6

Class 6A: Centennial 28, Edina 27

Saturday, Nov. 25

10 a.m. Nine-Player: Kingsland vs. Nevis

1 p.m. Class 3A: Stewartville vs. Annandale

4 p.m. Class 5A: St. Thomas Academy vs. Chanhassen

--MSHSL senior content creator 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] 

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Class AAAAAA Prep Bowl Championship: Centennial 28, Edina 27