Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota (FAM), my weekly column that tours football topics in our state from preps to pros. You can find all the previous FAM columns right here. — Chip
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Lakeville South and Hutchinson won state championships a few hours apart on Friday. A person can use both hands and still have fingers available in counting the number of passes those teams combined to throw in their Prep Bowl title games.
Seven pass attempts by two teams — total — in winning the Class 6A and 4A championships.
"They're probably Air Lakeville South compared to us," Hutchinson coach Andy Rostberg joked.
Lakeville South did air it out more — by one pass. The Cougars attempted four passes; three for Hutchinson.
The next day, Dassel-Cokato went even lower. The Chargers threw only two passes — with 69 runs — in beating Plainview-Elgin-Millville 28-14 for the Class 3A title.
With shotgun formation spread offenses becoming more prevalent in prep football everywhere, Lakeville South and Hutchinson embrace their old-school offensive philosophy. They're darn good at it, too.
FAM spent a week behind the scenes with Lakeville South this season and explored the roots of coach Ben Burk's Power-T scheme. Hutchinson operates out of an I-formation.
The two teams played 26 games combined and attempted 103 passes total: 61 by Lakeville South, 42 by Hutchinson.
Lakeville South went undefeated. Hutchinson finished 12-1 and did not punt once in its final six games.
"The offensive [coaches] get mad at me because I'd like to throw it more," said Burk, a former quarterback at St. Cloud State. "They're like, 'No, we're fine.' It's funny that we go back and forth with it."
Both teams share a similar rationale for being so unbalanced: If the defense can't stop the run, why throw?
Lakeville South averaged 7.3 yards per carry on 580 rushing attempts this season. Hutchinson averaged 7.4 yards on 604 runs.
The math makes sense.
"Our saying here is, 'Thank God for the spread,'" Rostberg said.
The reason being that as more teams shift to spread offenses, opposing defenses will see fewer and be less prepared for throwback offenses that run it down their throat.
"When they play us, they go, 'What? Two tight ends? Is that legal?'" Rostberg said. "They have a harder time with it."
Rostberg figures he'd probably have to put his home on the market if he ever got an urge to change schemes.
"There would be a revolt in Hutch if I said we were going to the spread," he said.
The inability of a defense to stop a rushing attack, at any level, is "demoralizing," said Rostberg, winner of three state titles as head coach.
"If you throw a slant pass and the safety slips and they score a touchdown, everybody goes, 'Aw shucks,'" he said. "When the defense knows you're going to run and they can't stop it, they just throw their hands up and say, 'Well, now what?'"
Lakeville South and Hutchinson give defenses a double whammy because they generate explosive plays and quick scores with their running game.
Lakeville South quarterback Camden Dean had touchdown runs of 28 and 52 yards in the 13-7 win over Maple Grove in the championship.
Alex Elliott scored on a 40-yard touchdown run and Mitchell Piehl ripped off a 90-yard TD run in Hutchinson's 42-14 win over Kasson-Mantorville.
Burk said his coaching staff was prepared to call a pass play on second down numerous times this season, but standout running back Carson Hansen squashed those plans with a long run on first down.
Hutchinson recorded 43 runs that covered more than 30 yards this season.
"We're going to throw it out of necessity more than anything else," Rostberg said.
Occasionally, necessity never materializes.
Hutchinson did not attempt a pass in the 2012 championship game against Holy Family, a 67-7 victory.
Same thing happened in the playoffs this season. The Tigers did not throw a pass in a 40-0 win over Simley in the quarterfinals, which caused the Simley student section to chant "Throw the ball! Throw the ball!"
Rostberg chuckled at that.
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LOVE OF THE GAME
Coming together, riding together, for the big games
By the time Fertile-Beltrami reached the Nine-Man playoffs with an 8-0 record, a group of player dads hatched a plan: Why not rent a charter bus for fans to ride if — no, when — the team advanced to the quarterfinals in Grand Rapids? Done. They were able to secure a bus and charge $35 per person.
The Falcons kept winning. The demand for tickets kept climbing.
What happened next is an example of community pride and the power of high school football in bringing folks together.
Located in northwestern Minnesota, Fertile has a population of roughly 850 (plus Beltrami's 100 residents). Coach Brian Nelson explains his town's location thusly: "We're an hour from Fargo, an hour from Grand Forks, an hour from Bemidji and an hour from Detroit Lakes."
But not an hour from Minneapolis, which was problematic for some residents when the Falcons made it to the state semifinals for the first time since 2006.
Nathan Stuhaug, owner of Stuhaug Sanitation Service in Fertile and father to senior twins Tyler and Tysen on the team, helped take the lead in making sure anyone who wanted to go to the game had a ride to U.S. Bank Stadium, 4½ hours away.
Stuhaug and his group of dads asked Fertile businesses and farmers for donations to cover the cost of renting one charter bus to the semifinals so that fans could ride free. They also raised enough money to send the team and marching band on charter buses.
The Falcons won again to advance to the Prep Bowl.
On his drive home after the semifinals, Stuhaug's phone "was blowing up" from fans wanting to know if there would be a bus to the Prep Bowl.
"By Wednesday afternoon," Stuhaug said, "we had five buses filled."
Total head count for fans: 274. All free of charge.
They also got a charter bus again for the team and band.
"I didn't even have to ask anyone for money," Stuhaug said. "Businesses and farmers were calling me up saying, 'Hey, we want to give $500, $1,000, $300, whatever the case.'"
For that three-week playoff run, the group raised enough money to rent six charter buses for fans and five buses for the team and band.
Total cost: $27,000.
The Falcons, who moved down to Nine-Man in 2019, advanced to their first Prep Bowl in school history. Fire trucks and ambulances led the team through town on a sendoff before departing for Minneapolis.
"Pretty amazing," said Nelson, who completed his 27th season as coach. "All the support and encouragement is overwhelming."
The Prep Bowl didn't end the way they had hoped, a 58-8 loss to LeRoy-Ostrander. But 32 players in uniform felt the love from a large and vocal contingent of fans cheering them in person thanks to the generosity of their community.
"You hear people lamenting about the state of our country a lot," Stuhaug said. "You come to Fertile and look at our kids here, you would think we have the brightest future ever."
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Gophers fans, get ready for a shake-up
A public service reminder now that the college football regular season has ended: The transfer portal is a two-way street. And it's going to be busier than rush-hour traffic.
Gophers players will leave the program through the portal and outsiders will join the program through the portal. Athlete movement has become a significant component of college sports.
In two days since reclaiming Paul Bunyan's Axe, three Gophers have put their names in the portal: quarterbacks Jacob Clark and Zack Annexstad (after Tanner Morgan announced he's returning) and linebacker DJ Gordon IV. It won't be surprising if others follow because attrition happens more than ever.
Recruiting the portal has become a must, not a luxury. The ability to plug holes with players who have college experience is a valuable resource, especially when teams lose their own contributors to the portal.
The Gophers struck gold in landing graduate transfer linebacker Jack Gibbens out of the portal last offseason. In my opinion, Gibbens was MVP of their defense this season.
Not every portal addition works out that well obviously, but it's clear that P.J. Fleck and staff will use the portal to fill needs.
The flip side can be frustrating, of course. Inevitably, a Gophers player who had a key role or promising upside will enter the portal. That's just part of college sports these days.
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- Joe Rossi: Gophers defensive coordinator's unit held the Badgers to 62 yards rushing and six points. The Gophers finished season No. 4 nationally in total defense and No. 11 in scoring defense.
- Chase Johnson: LeRoy-Ostrander quarterback set a Prep Bowl record in total yards with 412 (272 rushing, 140 passing) in the Nine-Man championship.
- Eli Gillman: Dassel-Cokato senior rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries, caught two passes for 43 yards and collected five tackles on defense as the Chargers won their first state title in Class 3A.
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He said what?!
"First experience, very good. I'd do it again for sure." Gophers transfer kicker Matthew Trickett in a lighthearted summation of winning Paul Bunyan's Axe in his only season with the Gophers.
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Numbers to know
- 10: Defensive touchdowns scored by Mankato West this season, including one in the 5A Prep Bowl. The Scarlets defense gave up only nine touchdowns.
- 66: Points surrendered by the Vikings defense in the final two minutes of the first half this season, an NFL high.
- 2.8: Yards per carry Saturday for Wisconsin freshman running back Braelon Allen, who entered the game No. 1 in college football in that statistic at 7.59 yards per carry.
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The Vikings' game management and clock management looked like chaos again in critical situations. They botched the sequence at the end of the first half, which ended with Kirk Cousins irate at coaches. Then, the blooper-reel moment when Cousins, in the midst of frantically trying get his receivers lined up in the right spot before a fourth-and-goal play in the fourth quarter, lined up under the guard instead of center. The lack of communication and organization was a bad look.
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Grab your popcorn
The high school season is in the books and the Gophers are done until their bowl game so that leaves the Vikings at Detroit on Sunday.
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An important 48 hours for …
Kirk Cousins. He looked out of sorts after throwing the kind of interception we haven't seen from him in a while. His accuracy was off and his frustration spilled out at different times. A game against the winless Lions is a nice opportunity for a bounce-back performance.
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A FAM FINAL WORD
So much attention in football is given to high-scoring offenses and aggressive play-calling and creative schemes and letting 'er rip that we often overlook the other side of the ball. The identity of the Gophers this season unequivocally became their stout defense under Rossi, punctuated by a dominating performance against their biggest rivals. The Gophers posted their best scoring defense since 1999. That deserves a final word.
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Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota. I'll publish this each Monday night on startribune.com, timed to kickoff of "Monday Night Football." And you can also join me on Twitter during the first quarter of MNF as I chat with readers about what I wrote each week.
Thanks, Chip (@chipscoggins on Twitter)