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John's Journal: Paying Tribute At The Prep Bowl

Coaches, Teams, Players Remember Lost Family, Friends, Competitors

Posted: Friday, December 2, 2022 - 8:05 PM


The Minneota Vikings celebrate their Class 1A state championship.




Barnesville players wear 65 stickers on their helmets in honor of Tyler Stone, a West Central Area senior football player who died in a car accident in September.

Bryan Strand is in his 18th year as a head football coach, and his Barnesville Trojans made history Friday by defeating Chatfield 35-20 in the Class 2A Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium. It was their first state title.

Barnesville had come close before, losing state championship games in 1978, 2010 and 2018. They reached the state semifinals last year before losing to eventual state champion Chatfield 22-18.

Strand comes from a coaching family. His father, Dick Strand, was the head football coach at Southland from 1973 until 2003, winning a state title in 1983. Dick Strand was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2003. Dick died on Dec. 1, 2014, and his son won a state title almost eight years later to the day.

“He passed away on his 70th birthday and we're staying at a hotel that's got his name on the wall,” Bryan Strand said, referring to the Doubletree Hotel Minneapolis Park Place, which has a room devoted to the MFCA Hall of Fame.

It's everything. It’s just so emotional,” said Strand. “I'm just so happy. I run the weight room and I wake up with these guys every day and I wouldn't have it any other way. It's been a journey and they finally got here.”

Football teams often place the jersey number of teammates who have passed away or are battling illness on their helmets. Players from Barnesville and Chatfield have taken it a step further, with the numbers of players from other teams on their headgear.

At Barnesville, the players have been wearing 65 stickers on their helmets in honor of Tyler Stone, a West Central Area senior football player who died in a car accident in September. Tyler played in the Prep Bowl a year ago, where West Central Area lost to Chatfield 14-13. Barnesville and West Central are in the same district and the Trojans began their season with a 29-6 home win over the Knights.

“He passed away earlier this season and (WCA coach) Nate (Wood) and I are pretty good friends,” said Strand. “We talked quite a bit and I kind of steamrolled the other coaches in the conference to get his number put on everybody's helmets. And we had a few guys that went down to the funeral, as well. Tyler was a senior, he was a really good kid and we wanted to honor him by having him be part of our team throughout the season.”

Chatfield senior star Sam Backer has had the number 64 on the back of his helmet ever since Aidan Miller of Plainview died in July 2019 from what doctors believe was cardiac arrhythmia. Aidan was a football player and wrestler at Plainview-Elgin-Millville.

--Backer rushed 28 times for 182 yards and two touchdowns Friday, ending his stellar career with 7,377 rushing yards; the state record is 7,503 by McLeod West’s Tyler Evans, set in 2001. Backer, a starter since eighth grade, might have broken the record but for a Covid-shortened five-game season in 2020.

--The Barnesville football team watched the hockey movie "Miracle" on the bus to the Twin Cities on Thursday, then – because a member of the coaching staff had a connection – chatted via FaceTime with Miracle On Ice star Mike Eruzione in their hotel in the evening. According to Strand: “He said, ‘Enjoy the moment, enjoy the things that are in front of you.’ ”

Minneota Adds To Its Football Legacy

When Minneota defeated Springfield 38-21 in Friday’s Class A Prep Bowl game, it added another chapter to the Vikings’ impressive legacy.

Minneota now owns eight football state titles. They won three in a row in 1986, 1987 and 1988 under coach Gerhard Meidt, and current head coach Chad Johnston has led the Vikings to crowns in 2009, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2022.

Meidt had a record of 236-79 in 32 years at Rothsay, Minneota and Big Lake. One of the stars of his teams in the 1980s was his son Chris, who still holds state records for most passes attempted (440) and completed (254) in a season (1987) and ranks high in several other categories.

“(Gerhard Meidt) was the guy that changed everything in Minneota football and it was his program,” Johnston said. “I was an assistant for a few years under Joel Skilling, who was a great mentor for me. He kind of taught me the ways of the Minneota program and it just kind of led to everything I do.

“There are shadows of what was done here before, and I think that's what drives us. And a lot of these kids have parents who have played in the Prep Bowl. That tradition means a lot to me, to be able to say that there has been no downslide in this program since the ‘80s. The kids have worked hard to keep us on the map and the credit goes to the kids, it really does.”

A year ago, Minneota lost to Mayer Lutheran 20-14 in the Prep Bowl. That defeat provided motivation for this year’s team.

“Last year, watching Mayer Lutheran celebrate, it's always been sitting in the back of your mind,” said Minneota senior Isaac Pohlen. “Every single rep and practice and lifting weights in the summer, it's always been there. And this is the best feeling I've had as a student-athlete.”

--Johnston switched winter coaching jobs this year, resigning as Minneota’s girls basketball coach and becoming head coach of the boys basketball team.

Simley Makes History In Class 4A

Using history as a gauge, Simley might not have been viewed as the favorite in Friday’s Class 4A Prep Bowl game. The Spartans’ opponent, Hutchinson, came in seeking its seventh state title (the Tigers won it all last year) and Simley had only played in one previous Prep Bowl, losing to Mankato West 42-19 in the 2014 Class 5A championship game.

But motivation wasn’t hard to find for Simley. The Spartans lost to Hutchinson 40-0 in last year’s state quarterfinals and they didn’t forget.

“I think everyone in this program, in this community and everyone in Inver Grove Heights circled this game, knowing that this could be a possibility with the team we had,” said Spartans quarterback Caden Renslow, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for two as Simley defeated Hutchinson 34-24.

--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] 

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, Rosemount 10

Saturday, Dec. 3

10 a.m./ Nine-Man: Mountain Iron-Buhl (12-0) vs. Spring Grove (13-0)

1 p.m./ Class 3A: Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (12-0) vs. New London-Spicer (10-2)

4 pm./ Class 5A: Elk River (12-0) vs. Mankato West (12-0)

TV: KSTC Channel 45


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2022 Class AAAAAA Football State Championship, Maple Grove 27, Rosemount 10