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John’s Journal: Two Weeks Between Games Is A Bonus

Semifinal Winners Will ‘Savor Every Day’ Until Prep Bowl

Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2022 - 7:07 PM


Fertile

Cheerleaders and fans from Fertile-Beltrami show their support for the Falcons.

The final rounds of the high school football playoffs have a different look this year, with two weeks between the state semifinals and the Prep Bowl games. The championships have traditionally been played on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving but the 2022 contests have been moved to Dec. 2-3.

That’s because the Vikings have a home game against New England on Thanksgiving night, which is where the dominoes begin falling. The network television crew, with several semi loads of gear, will not be able to clear U.S. Bank Stadium until probably mid-afternoon Friday, and the crew from KSTC Channel 45 that televises the Prep Bowl games needs most of a day to set up. So no games are possible on Friday.

One option was to play the championship games on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the following Monday (no MSHSL events can be held on Sundays), but the decision was made to push the games back a full week in order to play back-to-back weekend games. (One plus is that there will be fewer college football games on Dec. 3 than a week earlier.)

You can be sure that every player, coach and fan whose team wins this weekend will be happy no matter when the Prep Bowl games are played. That time will be precious.

“Speaking for myself, it means a lot,” said Spring Grove coach Kody Moore, whose team defeated Fertile-Beltrami 27-6 in Friday’s Nine-Man semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. “That's actually one of the first things you think of when you win a game like this, is the joy that you get out of it and being able to spend more time with these guys. They're just such a great bunch. It's always emotional to think about that.

“You know, regardless of what happens, these are the last few weeks that we get to spend together as a group so we're going to savor every day, I’ll tell you that much. I know these guys are going to work hard and play their best game here in a couple weeks.”

Spring Grove junior Elijah Solum, who completed 12 of 18 passes for 116 yards, rushed 19 times for 70 yards and three touchdowns and had nine tackles, said, “I think it's just a big thing for the next two weeks to bond as much as we can. After the next game the seniors are all gone. So it's going to be a big thing to get the win in the next game.”

Senior Tysen Grinde, who caught five passes for 64 yards, punted three times for a 39.7-yard average and returned a punt 76 yards for a score, said, “That was one of my biggest motivators to get this win; I want to keep playing football with my brothers. It's just more time to rest and recover so we're going to be fresh. And when we’re fresh, we're scary.”

Spring Grove won Prep Bowl titles in 2018 and 2019 under then-coach Zach Hauser, who is now an assistant coach in Caledonia. Moore is in his third year as head coach and was the offensive coordinator when the Lions won those state championships. Where does that success begin?

“It sounds cliche, but it comes down to the offseason program,” Moore said. “Zach did a really nice job of getting that in place with our strength and speed. I think any time you have guys that put in so much time and they're so bought in, that's the thing that makes successful programs. And it's one of those things where success breeds success.”

The Warmth Of Indoor Practice

Both teams in Thursday’s first Nine-Man semifinal worked out indoors a day before … at the same place. Mountain Iron-Buhl and Wheaton/Herman-Norcross had reserved time on a bubble-covered turf field operated by the Plymouth Parks and Recreation Department.

“It's nice to be able to put pads on and run on a whole turf field,” said Wheaton/Herman-Norcross coach James Paul. “But again, we're in Minnesota and we got some snow. That's how it goes.”

Prior to that, the teams had worked out in their gymnasiums, although Mountain Iron-Buhl also spent some time on the turf in its six-year-old stadium, which is one of the finest in the state regardless of class.

The Rangers have not lost a varsity home game since the field opened in 2018, and until their seventh-grade team lost there this season, no MIB football player in grades seven through 12 had been beaten at home.

Mountain Iron-Buhl’s 36-15 victory over Wheaton/Herman-Norcross moved the Rangers into the Prep Bowl on Dec. 3 against Spring Grove.

The only football state title in Mountain Iron (or Buhl) history came in 1972 when Mountain Iron defeated Dassel-Cokato 54-6 in the Class B championship game. That was the first year of football playoffs in Minnesota, taking place exactly 50 years ago.

No Record Book But This Is Rare

There is no category in the football record book such as “Most teams from one school district to reach the state semifinals.” That’s the case with School District 728 this week; all three high schools in the district – Elk River, Rogers and Zimmerman -- are playing at U.S. Bank Stadium.

In Class 5A, Elk River faces Mahtomedi in Friday’s semifinals and Rogers meets Mankato West on the other side of the 5A bracket on Saturday. In Class 4A, Zimmerman will face Hutchinson in the semifinals on Friday.

In 2016 two schools from the Anoka-Hennepin district (Blaine and Champlin Park) reached the Class 6A semifinals and another (Andover) was in the 5A quarterfinals.

--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 

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

9 a.m. Class 2A: Jackson County Central vs. Barnesville

11:30 a.m. Class 2A: Chatfield vs. Eden Valley-Watkins

2 p.m. Class 5A: Mahtomedi vs. Elk River

4:30 p.m. Class 4A: Hutchinson vs. Zimmerman

7:30 p.m. Class 6A: Eden Prairie vs. Rosemount

SATURDAY, NOV. 19

9 a.m. Class 1A: Springfield vs. Deer River

11:30 a.m. Class 1A: Fillmore Central vs. Minneota

2 p.m. Class 3A: Fairmont vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton

4:30 p.m. Class 3A: Watertown-Mayer vs. New London-Spicer

7 p.m. Class 5A: Mankato West vs. Rogers

MIB

The Mountain Iron-Buhl Rangers celebrate their semifinal win.


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Football State Tournament, 2022: Semifinals, Day 1