John’s Journal: “That's just 100 percent effort”
Minneota Touchdown Sets The Standard For Not Giving Up
Posted: Friday, November 26, 2021 - 5:08 PM
In a play that will live on in Prep Bowl lore, Minneota senior Jonah Gruenes scored a near-miraculous touchdown Friday late in the first half of the Vikings’ 20-14 loss to Mayer Lutheran in the Class 1A championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
On the first play after the Vikings recovered a Mayer Lutheran fumble, Gruenes caught a 22-yard scoring pass from Isaac Pohlen to give Minneota a 14-13 lead at halftime. In the official statistical account, the play is described thusly: #12 I. Pohlen pass complete to #10 J. Gruenes for 22 yards to the MLn00 TOUCHDOWN, clock 00:31, 1ST DOWN.
That is certainly accurate, but what Gruenes did on the play was something special. He caught the pass inside the 15-yard line and it looked like a short gain. But he never went down, even as multiple defenders jumped on him. He kept his legs moving, carrying tacklers and careening toward the end zone. With a couple teammates pushing the pile, Jonah knocked over a pylon as he reached the end zone. It was a phenomenal display of power and perseverance.
“It was huge,” said Vikings coach Chad Johnston. “That was an effort thing. All of a sudden we're down here and he's just carrying it, he gets a little help from some of his teammates. That's just 100 percent effort. And it was huge. You always talk about going into halftime with momentum, and we didn't have a whole lot at that time. … That was a huge play.”
Jonah said, “It definitely gave us some confidence going into the second half. I think we kind of had our heads down, we were losing. We haven’t really experienced that all year. It was a new situation and it was nice to go into the half leading.”
After every Prep Bowl game each team names a Most Valuable Teammate, who is recognized during the awards ceremony. Mayer Lutheran gave the honor to team manager Isaac Schmutzer and Minneota’s recipient was Gruenes.
At all semifinal and Prep Bowl games at U.S. Bank Stadium, head coaches can bring any players they choose into the postgame media room. Johnston brought Gruenes with him. “We've got a lot of quiet guys. As you can jokingly say, I brought probably the most quiet one with me here,” he said, smiling at Jonah. “We’ve got a lot of quiet guys but they lead by example, they give effort. A big reason for us to give him the MVT was just the effort throughout the year and the unselfish play. He not only carries the ball, he goes out for passes, he's probably our leading wingback blocker, he goes out in motion a lot. We’ve asked him to do a lot of things all season long, He has been our top linebacker and those are things that you expect out of your seniors.”
--Minneota played in its 10th Prep Bowl, with titles in 1986, 1987, 1988, 2009, 2014, 2015 and 2017. Mayer Lutheran won the state championship in its first Prep Bowl.
--Johnston is also Minneota’s girls basketball coach. The Vikings open the season Tuesday with a home game against Ortonville.
Prep Bowl Dreams Do Come True
Chatfield’s Jeff Johnson knows he is fortunate to have coached two state championship teams. The Gophers won the 2013 Class 2A title and did it again Friday with a 14-13 nail-biter over West Central Area/Ashby. The Gophers also won Class C championships in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Johnson, a Pine Island native, first experienced the Prep Bowl as a child but never reached it as a player.
“In the Metrodome back then, my dad brought me to these games and I was in first, second, third grade,” he said. “I only had one goal, and that was to get there and I fell short my senior year. So in 2013, I told those guys, ‘Thank you, thank you for getting me here,’ because that was my main goal. And for these guys here, it's their own championship.
“Chatfield’s been spoiled. In the 90s we won three, and it really puts a shadow on you, you kind of feel like you have to win it or else your season's not very successful. And in 2013 we felt that pressure and right now, we felt that again. So I'm darn glad that we won it. Not many teams get here. This was just a fantastic, successful season from day one. This is their own team, their own championship.”
--Despite Friday’s loss, West Central Area/Ashby senior Hunter Norby called the experience of playing in the state semifinals and Prep Bowl “The best two weeks I’ve ever had.”
Teammate and fellow senior Mattson Hoff said, “At the beginning of the season, in August, if you would have told me we're going to the state title game I would have thought you were crazy. I just hope that (younger kids) understand this: if you put your mind to it, and you believe it, you put your heart into it, it's possible.”
--Kasson-Mantorville lost to Hutchinson 42-14 in the Class 4A title game, and after speaking with the media in the postgame interview room, KoMets coach Joel Swanson shook the hand of every media member and thanked them for their coverage.
Hurrah For Dad
One of the officials for Friday’s Class 1A game had some special fans watching on TV. Tiffany Eichten, wife of official Christopher Eichten of Wabasso, posted a photo on Twitter of their son Jeter dressed in referee stripes and standing in front of a television (with his dad pictured on the screen). Tiffany’s post read: “It's not every day you get to watch Dad ref on TV, but when he does you have to make sure you dress just like him!”
2021 Prep Bowl
1A: Mayer Lutheran 20, Minneota 14
2A: Chatfield 14,West Central Area/Ashby 13
4A: Hutchinson 42, Kasson-Mantorville 14
6A: Lakeville South 13, Maple Grove 7
Nine-Man: LeRoy-Ostrander vs. Fertile-Beltrami, 10 a.m.
3A: Plainview-Elgin-Millville vs. Dassel-Cokato, 1 p.m.
5A: Mahtomedi vs. Mankato West, 4 p.m.
--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]