John’s Journal: Fillmore Central Gives It Everything They Have
Falcons Display Determination In Narrow Loss to Minneota
Posted: Saturday, November 19, 2022 - 6:40 PM
At halftime Saturday inside U.S. Bank Stadium, it looked for all the world like the Minneota Vikings were going to cruise into the Class 1A football state championship game. The Vikings held a 21-7 lead over Fillmore Central in the semifinals and had controlled things handily.
After scoring touchdowns on each of their first three possessions, Minneota saw the script get flipped by the Falcons, who scored three touchdowns in the final 13 minutes before Minneota escaped with a 28-27 win. The Vikings will face Springfield in the Prep Bowl at 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 2.
Fillmore Central’s Dillon O’Connor scored on runs of 19 and 1 yard, sandwiched around a 30-yard touchdown pass from O’Connor to Chase Christianson. The Falcons’ final score came with 3:15 left in the fourth quarter. That made it Minneota 28, Fillmore Central 27 and the Falcons did not hesitate in going for the win with a two-point conversion. The try failed, but not for lack of effort or guts.
“We talked about it as we were driving down there and the decision was made long before that,” Fillmore Central coach Chris Mensink said. “We were confident in the two-point plays we had in for the week.
“These kids were going for the win. We didn't come here to tie, we didn't come here to lose, we came here to win the ballgame. And I have all the faith and confidence in these kids.”
After the foiled two-point try, the Falcons kept attacking behind a strong passing game. O’Connor completed 14 of 28 throws for 249 yards and two scores, with 10 catches by Bryce Corson for 183 yards and a TD.
“I think everybody in the state got an opportunity to see what this football team has been about all season long,” Mensink said. “There's so much fight in this group. They play every play. … They play the game as hard as they can on every play so I couldn't be prouder of these guys. It's been a great season. And what a fun opportunity to coach this group.”
The Falcons, who had come into the game unbeaten, opened eyes in their first trip to the state playoffs. Minneota, meanwhile, is flush with late-season experience. The Vikings have won four state titles since 2009 and were the Class 1A runner-up last season
“That was an exciting one all the way to the end,” Minneota coach Chad Johnston said. “The credit goes to Fillmore, they had the athletes and we knew they were going to throw the ball. We were concerned about that.
“The key thing for me was I felt like they made the right adjustments at halftime. We were totally controlling the first half as far as running the ball and that completely went away. They switched up their defense a little bit, made the right adjustments and we just couldn't move the ball consistently.”
Mensink, who is in his 16th season as head coach, was philosophical – as well as immensely proud – after the game.
“There's a lesson to be learned in everything, right? There's only one football team that ends their season with a win, right? And as I told these kids after the game, we have nothing to hang our heads about. They can be proud. They represented their community with class. They fought until the end, and they're going to continue to hold their heads high. These kids are going to be successful in whatever they choose to do with that mindset. I couldn't be prouder.”
Fillmore Central’s Corson, as senior, said of the experience, “It was definitely the best season in my life, it was definitely the most fun. I know just coming up here, to stay in the hotel with all my best friends. These are some of the best times of your life. And that's a game that we're going to remember for the rest of our life. We were close and it was still a lot of fun.”
From Grand Meadow To Fillmore Central
A new volunteer assistant coach at Fillmore Central this season brought a wealth of high-level experience to the Falcons. Gary Sloan was the Grand Meadow head coach for 29 years before retiring after the 2021 season. His career record is 230-84, he led eight teams to state and won Nine-Man state championships in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. His son Ty Sloan is also an assistant coach.
“At Fillmore Central we’re very lucky, we've got one of the best coaching staffs in the state, I believe,” Mensink said. “Of course, when you add a Gary Sloan to your staff, he's a Hall of Famer, he's been here and won four state championships. So any advice that he gives is good advice. And the best thing about it is he's in it for the kids. My motto has always been I want to put good guys in front of my kids and Gary is definitely one of those role models that that our kids need in front of them.”
Trickeration vs. Straight Ahead
Football offenses can be simple or complicated but everything boils down to two basic concepts: 1) Be stronger than the defense or 2) Fool the defense.
In this weekend’s state semifinals, both types of attacks were on display. In Class 5A, Elk River runs a complicated Power T offense, with seven blockers packed tight, the quarterback under center and three running backs a step or two behind him. At the snap, the Elks dipsy-doo with fake handoffs and/or the ball hidden on a hip, and the defense is left trying to figure out who to tackle.
In their 38-21 win over Mahtomedi, seven different Elks carried the ball 59 times for 453 yards. They threw only five passes.
Quarterback Cade Osterman, the Elks’ leading rusher this season, carried 16 times for 218 yards and two touchdowns against Mahtomedi, including a 63-yard dash. Their ground game helped them maintain possession of the ball for more than 31 minutes to Mahtomedi’s 16 ½ minutes.
“I've never had a quarterback lead the team in rushing, so I think it puts a different stress on the defense,” Elks coach Steve Hamilton said. “Cade has done it all year. He makes plays when they’re not there to be made and that's why we're here.”
Osterman’s father, Aaron, is a member of the Elks coaching staff.
“My dad's been a coach here for my whole life,” Cade said. “He's been teaching it to me since second grade. I ran the Power T offense in second grade all the way up to now, so I've gotten used to it.”
Mahtomedi defensive lineman J.P. Johnson, who had a team-high nine tackles along with Javan Harvey, said trying to stop the Elks’ attack is a challenge.
“Yeah, it's tough. The reads are hard to make when you're up in the middle of the line because you don't know who has the ball. It could be four different guys that could be carrying it.”
Zephyrs linebacker Will Harris said, “I think one of the biggest things is that you can rep it in practice with your scout team and do it day after day. But once you get into the game, it's about 10 times faster.”
On the offensive flip side is Hutchinson in Class 4A. The Tigers don’t do anything overly fancy, they just use strong, physical blockers to control the line of scrimmage for strong, fleet ballcarriers.
In a 42-28 semifinal win over Zimmerman, Hutchinson completed eight of 13 passes for 122 yards, while gaining 254 yards on the ground with four rushers combining for 56 carries.
Hutchinson senior Andrew Ladwig, who rushed 32 times for 109 yards and three touchdowns and caught three passes from Logan Butler for another 42 yards, said, “It’s nice when you don't have to worry about tricking the other team. You just do the same thing and you get really good at it. And by the end of the season, it's just doing what you've always been doing the whole year.”
Elk River will meet Rogers or Mankato West in the 5A championship game in two weeks, while Hutchinson will face Simley in 4A.
--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
Class 1A: Springfield 54, Deer River 30
Class 1A: Minneota 28, Fillmore Central 27
Class 3A: Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 16, Fairmont 7.
Class 3A: New London-Spicer 33, Watertown-Mayer 28
Class 5A: Mankato West 14, Rogers 10
PREP BOWL GAMES
Friday, Dec. 2
10 a.m./ Class 1A: Springfield vs. Minneota
1 p.m./ Class 2A: Barnesville vs. Chatfield
4 p.m./ Class 4A: Simley vs. Hutchinson
7 p.m./ Class 6A: Maple Grove vs. Rosemount
Saturday, Dec. 3
10 a.m./ Nine-Man: Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Spring Grove
1 p.m./ Class 3A: Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton vs. New London-Spicer
4 pm./ Class 5A: Elk River vs. Mankato West