Maple Grove football fans watching their team risk a second collapse in as many weeks might have missed the turning point happening on the Crimson sideline.
Head coach Matt Lombardi said he put his arm around junior running back Chuck Langama for a chat "while the disaster was happening" in the third quarter Thursday against Centennial. "We had a talk, and I said, 'Go be the guy.' He gave me a confident look, not a panicked look."
Langama scored three of his four touchdowns in the final quarter of a wild 41-28 comeback victory for the defending Class 6A state champion Crimson (2-1) against the visiting Cougars (2-1).
"He said I couldn't get tired, and I said, 'Yes, Coach,' " Langama said after the game, clutching a container of miniature chocolate chip muffins, a postgame treat from the grandparents of teammate Michael Wagner. They have been making the goodies for Langama since he was in sixth grade — regardless of his performance.
After Thursday, Langama deserved a lifetime supply.
"He really embraced the challenge, and I was really proud of him," Lombardi said. "There were a lot of tough yards running inside. He kept things moving forward."
An interception by sixth-ranked Centennial turned into a go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter. Maple Grove, which had led 20-0, now trailed by a point. Crimson fans were experiencing déjà vu after last week, when their team blew a 17-0 lead in an eventual loss at Champlin Park.
Determined to write a different ending, Maple Grove embarked on a 13-play drive that started midway through the third quarter and ended with a Langama fourth-quarter touchdown run.
"We will know in the coming weeks," Lombardi said when asked if the drive could be a symbol of maturity for a team with 10 sophomore starters — the youngest team of his coaching career. "We've got a long way to go, but tonight was a good win over a good Centennial team."
Centennial coach Mike Diggins said his team learned a hard lesson at Maple Grove.
"The players found out you have to come into a game ready and you can't get behind 20-0 and expect to win," Diggins said. "Maple Grove went through it last week and we went through it tonight."