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John's Journal: Life Lessons In Knowing What’s Important

Spring Grove’s Hunter Holland Epitomizes Football’s Brotherhood

Posted: Saturday, December 3, 2022 - 5:39 PM


nls td

The New London-Spicer Wildcats celebrate a last-play, miracle win over Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in the Class 3A Prep Bowl.

Hunter

Spring Grove's Holland Hunter.

The 2022 football season for Spring Grove High School didn’t end the way the Lions wanted. They led 19-0 shortly before halftime, and Mountain Iron-Buhl rallied to win 28-25 Saturday and take home the Nine-Man state championship at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Spring Grove was 13-0 this season before losing Saturday. One year ago they had a record of 3-5, including a 72-27 loss at Lanesboro to close the regular season. To recover from that and get all the way to the Prep Bowl is a remarkable story.

“It's a great life lesson to get knocked down and have to get back up and completely buy into something,” said Lions coach Kody Moore. “Last year didn't go the way we wanted. We love our guys and these guys took it personally.

“From the moment the season ended last year, they were knocking down the door to get back in the weight room because they had one goal in mind and they wanted to change things. And boy, they sure did change things. And regardless of the fact that we didn't win it all, I'm so proud of these guys in their efforts and what they learned from battling through that adversity and putting together a great season. This will take them far in life.”

The topic of adversity brings us to Hunter Holland, a Spring Grove senior who has been an integral part of the Lions’ success. During Saturday’s game, Holland rushed 12 times for 76 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown that gave the Lions the 19-point lead late in the opening quarter. He also caught two passes for 13 yards.

And like everything he does, Hunter accomplished all that in the Prep Bowl with near-blindness in one eye.

He has dealt with a nasal condition called arteriovenous malformations since he was 2 years old. It can result in severe nosebleeds and Hunter has been treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. After a standard procedure at Mayo in August, shortly before football practice began, he started to lose sight in his right eye. Blood vessels had burst and vision in the eye was disappearing.

When doctors told him that vision would not return, it was frightening.

“I was scared. I started crying in the hospital,” Hunter said after Saturday’s game. “It was a scary moment.”

But it was only for a moment. The next day, he wanted to get out of the hospital and prepare for his senior football season. “I kept on asking the doctors, ‘Can I play?’ and they said there’s no reason I couldn’t.”

A few days before the opening day of practice, Hunter texted Moore with a simple message.

“He was like, ‘Coach, I'll be ready,’ ” Moore said. “And he was still in the hospital. It's crazy.”

Football was a strong motivator for Holland, who also is a basketball and track and field athlete.

“I wanted to be back with all my boys, my brothers,” he said. “You put your mind to it. You don't let anything stop you.”

Moore said, “It's hard to put it into words just what he's dealt with. It’s something that teenage kids definitely shouldn't have to deal with. From day one since he came back, you would never guess that he had any vision problems at all. He never complains about anything.

“He's such a steady kid. And like I said about these guys being good young men, good people going forward, in him you can see that right there. What else could be thrown at him that's going to keep him from being successful? Nothing. I’m so proud of him.”

--Mountain Iron-Buhl’s state title is the second in school history. In 1972, the first year of football playoffs in Minnesota, Mountain Iron won the Class B championship. And now, 50 years later, title No. 2 is heading back to the Iron Range.

Miracle Finish Gives New London-Spicer 3A Title

There were four seconds on the clock, the New London-Spicer Wildcats trailed 26-21 and were 48 long yards from the end zone. The Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton fans were all set to celebrate a Class 3A state championship. Then came the miracle.

In the official statistics from the game, the play is described thusly: “No Huddle-Shotgun #4 B.Schultz pass complete deep right to #12 G.Paffrath for 48 yards to the DGF00 lateral to #81 B.Christensen for 0 yards to the DGF00 TOUCHDOWN, clock 00:00.”

Yes, a completed pass from Wildcats sophomore quarterback Blake Schultz to junior Grant Paffrath on the 17-yard line who – as a tackler grabbed him – flipped the ball to senior Brycen Christiansen, who dashed the final 14 yards into the end zone. Wildcats win 27-26.

Pandemonium. It was one of those sports moments that live forever, especially for the winning team. As the Wildcats ran wildly from the sideline and celebrated in the end zone, DGF Rebels lay scattered across the turf.

The victory gave New London-Spicer its second football state title, the first coming in 2009. The Rebels were seeking their first state championship.

It was a back-and-forth game from start to finish. DGF scored first, NLS tied it 7-7, NLS went ahead and DGF tied it 14-14 at halftime. NLS led 21-14 after three quarters, DGF scored but missed the kick to trail 21-20 early in the fourth.

The Rebels seemingly were in control after Jordan Summers scored on a 19-yard run with 24 seconds to play, giving him 169 yards in 33 carries for the day. After the kickoff, New London-Spicer’s final drive began at the DGF 43 with 17 seconds left. A false start penalty on NLS was followed by two incomplete passes before the miracle play.

“The kids did exactly what we asked them to do,” DGF coach Anthony Soderberg said afterwards. “Opinions don't matter, scoreboards do. But the kids busted their butt from the beginning of the game to the end of the game and they did it with class. They work together as a team, as a family. And, you know, they're just a great group of kids.”

Elk River Edges Mankato West In Class 5A

In the final game of Prep Bowl weekend, the Elk River Elks captured their second state title with a 29-26 win over defending champion Mankato West. Elk River's previous title came in 2016.

Elk River rushed for 400 yards on 46 carries, led by Logan Bunker with 120 yards on seven rushes, while attempting one pass. 

Elks kicker Breanna Bernardson made history by becoming the first female to score in the 40-year history of the Prep Bowl. The senior made three extra-point kicks as her team won by three points.  

Hutchinson: Home Of Tradition And Family Ties

Football expectations are always high at Hutchinson High School, one of the state’s most successful programs over the years. The Tigers have won six state titles, most recently in 2012, 2013 and 2021.

Hutchinson fell short of championship No. 7 on Friday, losing to first-time champ Simley 34-24 in the Class 4A Prep Bowl.

“Right now it stings a little bit and it hurts,” coach Andy Rostberg said. “But we're going to celebrate these boys a lot and they'll look back at this game, at their career, at this season. There's a long list of a lot of great things that they did and that they accomplished throughout their careers.

On the bus ride to U.S. Bank Stadium, Rostberg and some longtime assistant coaches discussed the family legacies in Hutchinson football.

“We started thinking about fathers and sons in Hutchinson that we've coached,” he said. “And without looking at our roster, we came up with 68 fathers and sons that have played in Hutchinson, and I know there's more than that if we had the rosters. And we do have a few grandpas, son and grandsons, too. It is a family deal.”

--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 jmillea@mshsl.org 

Prep Bowl

Friday, Dec. 2

Class 1A: Minneota 38, Springfield 21

Class 2A: Barnesville 35, Chatfield 20

Class 4A: Simley 34, Hutchinson 24

Class 6A: Maple Grove 27, 10 Rosemount

Saturday, Dec. 3

Nine-Man: Mountain Iron-Buhl 28, Spring Grove 25

Class 3A: New London-Spicer 27, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 26

Class 5A: Elk River 29, Mankato West 26


Next Article

2022 Class AAAAA Football State Championship, Elk River 29, Mankato West 26