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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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Jeff Erdmann answered his phone Sunday night and immediately apologized in case the connection went bad or the call got cut off.

"It's because I'm in Vienna, Austria, and it's 3 a.m.," the Rosemount football coach said.

Austria? Celebrating an upset of No. 1 Eden Prairie with a cool trip, huh?

Nah. Erdmann and his wife, Ruth, squeezed in a trip abroad to watch their son, Jackson, play in the championship game of the European League of Football. The former St. John's quarterback led the Vienna Vikings to a 27-15 win over Hamburg to claim the championship trophy.

Erdmann completed 20 of 25 passes for 253 yards.

"It was awesome," the proud dad said. "It was great to be here."

Erdmann coached his Rosemount team to a 14-7 win over top-ranked Eden Prairie on Thursday night, then headed off to Europe on Friday afternoon. The Erdmanns returned home on Monday morning.

Long hours sitting on a plane gave the veteran coach time to start preparing for another tough challenge Friday at defending state Class 6A champion Lakeville South.

The schedule doesn't give the undefeated Irish (4-0) a chance to relax — Eden Prairie followed by Lakeville South.

"Well, a lot of us have that," Erdmann said. "That's the nature of the beast for us because of how they made these divisions. … We played [Lakeville] North the week before. You got three physical, run-oriented offenses. If we're going to have success, we have to address it and be able to overcome it."

The conversation ended at that point. It was past 3 a.m. and Erdmann's flight home was fast approaching. His family scored a big upset and a championship last week. He was sleep-deprived but happy.

Jackson Erdmann was a star at St. John’s before playing overseas.
Jackson Erdmann was a star at St. John’s before playing overseas.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Ball and chains

A locker room in the bowels of Huntington Bank Stadium was filled with laughter two hours before the Gophers game against Colorado two weeks ago.

The team inside getting dressed for the game likes to keep things loose, though nerves creep in.

"Oh heck yeah," Brian Cosgriff said. "You want to do a good job. We're all easily replaceable."

Yes, but membership in the chain gang rarely changes. The men who operate the sideline chains and down markers at Gophers home football games have been together as a team for many years.

A handful of them are former coaches in various sports, including:

Cosgriff, who was inducted into the Minnesota High School Basketball Hall of Fame after winning seven state championships as girls' basketball coach at Hopkins.

Hall of Famer Ken Baumann won six football state titles as head coach at Mahnomen.

Mark Lundgren coached football at defunct Golden Valley High. Mat Mahoney is the current football coach at Fairmont High.

To a man, they love being part of the chain gang team.

"I better be in hospice in order for me to quit that job," Cosgriff said. "It's so much fun. You look forward to this all week."

Brian Cosgriff, left, and the rest of the “chain gang” did their thing on the sidelines when Minnesota beat Colorado earlier this month.
Brian Cosgriff, left, and the rest of the “chain gang” did their thing on the sidelines when Minnesota beat Colorado earlier this month.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Lundgren took over as crew leader in the mid-1990s. The group has 14 members, but only 12 work game days, giving flexibility to the hunters in the group during deer season.

Lundgren has had to replace only one crew member in the past 15 years because nobody gives up their spot. He has a favorite saying that he applies to the chain gang: "Friends are the family we choose for ourselves."

Lundgren assigns various jobs each game that include handling yard markers, the down marker, chain clip and charting penalties.

Ever notice the chain gang member who often sprints down the sideline right before the ball gets snapped? That is by design because of procedural rules.

"The skinny guys get that job," Lundgren said.

There are some hazards with the job. Being that close to the action occasionally leads to collisions with players along the sideline. Cosgriff has a strategy to avoid getting steamrolled.

"If they're coming at you," he said, "you can't go backwards because you're running into 280-pound guys. You have to go sideways. You drop and go sideways."

Being called onto the field for first-down measurements can be a little intimidating, too.

"They don't do those very often," Cosgriff said, "but you kind of get nervous because you do not want to go out there and trip in front of 50,000 people."

They don't get paid, but each crew member gets comp tickets, a pregame meal and parking near the stadium. The fellowship is the biggest draw that keeps them coming back every season.

The entire crew gathers for a tailgate after games. They stayed for three-plus hours after the Colorado game.

Baumann, who turns 76 in December, has a four-hour drive to Huntington Bank Stadium from his home. He does the roundtrip all in one day. The season opener against New Mexico State started at 8 p.m., which means he didn't get home until 4:30 a.m.

"I don't have a problem with it," Baumann said. "If I get tired, I'll just pull over for a little bit and walk around the car a couple of times and then I'm ready to go."

The chain gang made a toast — and a promise — at their most recent postgame tailgate.

"We raised a beer and said, 'Listen, we are all going to the Rose Bowl this year,' " Cosgriff said. "If you've got to take out a loan to go, take out a loan. But we are going."

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Dominating defense

The Gophers have played 41 games since Joe Rossi took over as defensive coordinator in 2018 with three regular-season games remaining. Since then, the defense has allowed an average of only 19.8 points per game. The Gophers rank 12th nationally in scoring defense since 2019, Rossi's first full season as coordinator.

The metrics highlight the stark turnaround and subsequent consistency as a top-tier defense under Rossi's leadership. The Gophers fielded one of college football's stingiest defenses last season and they are doing so again through four games this season.

They have given up only 24 points total (second nationally) and an average of 187.8 yards allowed per game (first nationally).

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Game balls

  • K.J. Osborn: The Vikings No. 3 receiver led team in receiving yards and had back-to-back 28-yard receptions in the final minute, including the game-winning touchdown over Detroit.
  • Tanner Morgan: Gophers quarterback had one of the most efficient games of his career to earn Big Ten offensive player of the week honors. He completed 23 of 26 passes for 268 yards and three TDs in win over Michigan State.
  • Carson Hansen: The Lakeville South senior set a school-record single-game rushing record with 322 yards against Farmington on 23 carries. He also scored four touchdowns.
  • Jaran Roste: Bethel's quarterback returned from an elbow injury to help the Royals break an eight-game losing streak to St. John's, ranked No. 2 in D-III. Roste passed for 321 yards (second most in his career) and three touchdowns in the second half.

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Woodbury’s Quentin Cobb-Butler returned a kick for a first-quarter touchdown against Burnsville last Friday.
Woodbury’s Quentin Cobb-Butler returned a kick for a first-quarter touchdown against Burnsville last Friday.

Mark Vancleave, Star Tribune

He said what?!

"He said we were kind of slow on special teams. So we came out fast." — Woodbury High's Quentin Cobb-Butler, responding to coach Andy Hill's challenge by returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown vs. Burnsville.

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Numbers to know

  • 3: Consecutive wins for Southwest Minnesota State under first-year coach Scott Underwood, already eclipsing last season's win total of two.
  • 4: Field goals of at least 40 yards for Winona State's Jacob Scott in a win over MSU Moorhead, becoming the first kicker in school history to make four FGs from 40-plus yards in one game.
  • 40:35: Average time of possession for Gophers offense, which leads the nation in FBS by nearly four minutes.
  • 9: Catches for Justin Jefferson the last two games combined after nine receptions against Green Bay in the season opener.

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15-yard penalty

Dan Campbell, what were you thinking? The Detroit Lions coach made two baffling decisions that opened the door for the Vikings to erase a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Campbell's decision to have his kicker attempt a 54-yard field goal with 1:14 left was terrible because the predictable miss gave the Vikings prime field position. To me, an even worse decision came earlier in the fourth quarter when the Lions attempted a deep pass down the sideline on third-and-1 with a 10-point lead. Those decisions were coaching malpractice.

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Grab your popcorn

Mankato West at Rochester Mayo on Friday. The conference foes are both 4-0. Mayo is averaging 42.5 points but they have not faced an opponent as tough as the defending Class 5A champions. The Scarlets posted seven shutouts in going undefeated last season and they have two shutouts and allowed only 21 points in four games this season.

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An important 48 hours for …

Dalvin Cook. The Vikings running back left Sunday's game after suffering a dislocated shoulder. Cook told coaches at the stadium that he intends to play Sunday in London against the Saints, but head coach Kevin O'Connell said the plan is to monitor Cook's progress throughout the week before deciding on his status. With so much season left, the Vikings likely will be cautious in how they handle Cook's availability.

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Friday night football is supposed to be a joyous occasion. A chance for communities to come together to show their support, passion and spirit in cheering for the football team. The shooting that took place at Richfield High's football game shattered that idyllic definition of a fall Friday night under the lights. Thankfully, the victims were not gravely wounded. This story has stirred a lot of emotions, but anger is the predominant one for me. Did you see the video of the players and fans frantically running away from danger? At a homecoming football game. This should not be happening.

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Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota. I'll publish this each Tuesday morning in time for your lunch-hour reading. I appreciate feedback so please reach out anytime.

Thanks again,

Chip (@chipscoggins on Twitter)