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John’s Journal: Zero To One Hundred On The Football Field

Zero Week Games Get The Season Started

Posted: Sunday, August 28, 2022 - 2:17 PM


Veterans, current military personnel and first responders were honored during pregame ceremonies in Hutchinson.


When Hutchinson won the Class 4A state title last year, it was the third championship with Andy Rostberg (left) as head coach. Grady Rostberg (right) also led the Tigers to three state titles.

Zero Week? C’mon, we have to come up with a better label for the opening games of the high school football season than Zero Week.

What is zero, anyway? It doesn’t exactly carry a positive connotation.

I just Googled “zero” and these are among the definitions…

--“Denoting the absence of all magnitude or quantity.”

--“A state of total absence or neutrality.”

I watched two Zero Week football games over the weekend, and there was nothing zero about it. St. Cloud Apollo played at Hutchinson on a beautiful Thursday evening in which veterans, current military personnel and first responders were honored during pregame ceremonies, including a giant hot air balloon in support of POWs and MIAs at the 50-yard line. And on Friday night the team from Brainerd came south to Coon Rapids for what ended up being a whiz-banger of a football game; Brainerd led 20-0 in the third quarter before the Cardinals rallied for a 21-20 win.

Maybe it should be called Zoom Week, based on what the prevailing teams displayed. In Hutchinson’s 46-0 win, Logan Butler completed five of seven passes for 120 yards, which is a big airborne number for the traditionally ground-grinding Tigers. A.J. Ladwig scored on two rushing touchdowns and also fell on a blocked punt for another six points, and Hutch’s Alex Elliot, whose next uniform will be the maroon and gold of the Minnesota Gophers, had four tackles (including a sack) and ran two yards for a touchdown as the defending Class 4A state champions won their 10th game in a row.

Hutchinson’s only defeat last year came in Week 3 at Becker. The Bulldogs will travel to Hutchinson this year on Sept. 23, which will be a special occasion. More on that in a bit.

For fans of air shows, Coon Rapids quarterback Jacob Mattick and wide receiver Khijohnn Cummings-Coleman, both juniors, made eyes pop as the Cardinals rallied to beat the Warriors. Cummings-Coleman ran seven yards for a TD to make it a 20-7 game late in the third quarter, then caught touchdown passes of 26 and 53 yards from Mattick in the fourth quarter. The 53-yarder, with 2:13 to play, was electrifying.

“We trust in Jacob, we trust in Khi, and when we called their numbers they made a play,” said Coon Rapids coach Nick Rusin. “It's a special talent, you could see it tonight. It can really change the game.”

Mattick completed 20 of 35 passes for 291 yards, while senior John Patrou booted kickoffs into the end zone, made three extra points and averaged 36 yards on three punts. Keep an eye on the Cardinals this season.

For all four teams, the simple act of playing the first game was a big positive. Zero Week means starting practice a week earlier than normal and having a bye week during the regular season. Without Zero Week, some teams would only be able to play seven regular-season games rather than the usual eight. There were eight Zero Week games this year, and every one of those 16 teams learned a few things.

“You’ve got to make plays, but at the same time, you don't learn unless you fail,” Brainerd coach Jason Freed said. “Tonight we had that a few times and now we'll go back and we'll figure out what we did wrong and we'll figure out how to be better.”

There was student-provided halftime entertainment at both games despite the fact that school has not started and regular practice time is not yet regular. The Hutchinson marching band put on a great show, as did the Coon Rapids dance team.  

The atmosphere was perfect both nights. Some fans in Hutchinson came just to see the giant balloon (Mom to young child sitting impatiently in the bleachers: “We’ll watch the balloon and then we’ll get going”). The Coon Rapids Cardinals took the field by blasting through a paper sign that read, “Learn To Take The Heat; You’re About To Get Beat.”

Now, back to that September Becker-Hutchinson game…

The Tigers’ home field has been known as S.R. Knutson Field longer than anyone can remember; Sever Raymond Knutson was the superintendent in Hutch from 1940 to 1966. Old Sever’s name will continue in that capacity, but on Sept. 23 the place will be renamed Rostberg Stadium at S.R. Knutson Field in honor of the father-son coaching duo of Grady and Andy Rostberg. The day will also be a reunion of all six state championship football teams coached by the Rostbergs.

Grady was the head coach from 1970 to 1998 and Andy took over in 1999. Grady’s teams won three state championships – two with Andy at quarterback and one with Andy as offensive coordinator. Last year’s state title was the third with Andy at the helm, matching his dad, who remains a volunteer assistant coach.

Grady’s career record was 250-63-1 and Friday’s win gave Andy a mark of 206-53. Their combined numbers are 456-116-1. (Also notable: Andy was Lindsay Whalen’s high school basketball coach.)

Whenever the Tigers play Becker, it’s a reunion for the Rostbergs and their good friend Dwight Lundeen, who is the only head football coach Becker has ever had. This is his 53rd season.

The Rostbergs have never been interested in personal publicity, so if some minor arm-twisting had to be done for them to accept having the family name placed on the stadium, so be it. They both are humbled.

“It's really quite an honor,” Grady said. “I mean, I never expected anything like that.”

Andy called it, “A little overwhelming. I think for me, it's more about him. And for my dad, it’s probably about me. It’ll be fun to see a lot of old players. It'll be a fun night.”

Yes indeed, it will be another fun night. We can’t have enough of those.

--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] 


The national anthem in Coon Rapids.

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