Matt Lombardi won three Prep Bowl championships as architect of Wayzata defenses that overwhelmed quarterbacks. Capturing his first as Maple Grove head coach means quarterback Jacob Kilzer must punish defenses as a runner.
Kilzer isn't alone. He is one of four players in championship contention at the two-day Prep Bowl taking place at U.S. Bank Stadium who are quarterbacks by position but are known for numbers to make a running back envious.
Chatfield's Sam Backer starts the running quarterback showcase in Friday's Class 2A final. Backer, with 7,185 career rushing yards, sits 318 from tying the state record set by McLeod West's Tyler Evans (7,503 from 1999-2001).
Several hours later, Kilzer's Crimson battles Rosemount's Landon Danner for the Class 6A crown. Saturday concludes with Cade Osterman and Elk River vying for the 5A title.
Four quarterbacks. Oodles of combined rushing yards. Zero losses heading into the weekend. Running quarterbacks are nothing new. But they provide a common thread for teams still chasing a state title this season.
"It's another thing to put a defense on its heels," Lombardi said. "For the offense, a running quarterback gives you another option outside your normalcy — and that can sometimes save your bacon."
Kilzer has rushed for 1,228 yards and 18 touchdowns at a clip of 7.5 yards per carry. He ran for 200 yards in the state tournament quarterfinals to fuel a narrow 24-17 victory. He uses his size (6-3, 190 pounds) to take on defenders. He recently received an offer from the Gophers.
"He's like Joey Miller, the running back we had at Wayzata," Lombardi said. "With those guys it's just, 'Give me the ball; I'm going to win it.' "
Finding comparisons for Osterman leaves Elk River football coach Steve Hamilton at a loss. Osterman became the standard by leading the team with 1,383 rushing yards (11.2 per carry) and 19 touchdowns.
"That's the biggest difference with us over the last few times we've been here, is that we have such a dynamic quarterback," said Hamilton, whose team won in 2016 and took second a year later. "I've never had a quarterback lead the team in rushing, and so I think it puts a different stress on the defense. In the past, if you could take trap away, you could really slow us down if we didn't have that dynamic athlete. Cade makes plans when they are not there to be made and that's why we're here."
Hamilton arrived from a program in Georgia in 2011, about the time more Twin Cities programs were turning to pass-happy spread offenses. Hamilton took the Elks retro, installing the run-heavy Power-T. Time passed, success came and programs began to follow Hamilton's lead.
Count Rosemount among the latest converts. Coach Jeff Erdmann first saw the formation as a short-yardage package designed to improve the team's physicality at the line of scrimmage. Over time, "bone" became the preferred way for the Irish to grind out victories. They beat defending 6A champion Lakeville South once and traditional state power Eden Prairie twice — the second one coming in the semifinals.
Danner, a junior ranked fourth on the team with 359 rushing yards, tied his season best with 97 yards in the Eden Prairie rematch. Two of his eight carries covered a combined 43 yards and ignited Rosemount's two scoring drives.
"It's a combination of running an offense that will work outside when the weather gets cold and the more athletic guys we see at quarterback," Erdmann said. "We do some spread stuff, too. So we need a quarterback who can do both."