An undefeated season. A first-team All-Metro quarterback. Players changing positions, making sacrifices and coming through on top. A seasonlong spot at the top of the state rankings.
Things went Maple Grove's way pretty much all season, culminating in the Crimson's 27-10 Class 6A championship game victory Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Yet, going into the championship game there was a feeling within the team that the Crimson were underappreciated. And that is likely what made Maple Grove a champion.
"People doubted us a little bit, I think, but we felt pretty good coming in," Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi said Friday. "I can't be prouder of how they played. This is the first real marquee state championship for Maple Grove. This is just a wonderful moment for Maple Grove."
Going into the game, Maple Grove's Class 6A counterpart, Rosemount, had become the trendy pick.
Neither team had a loss on its record before the game, but the feeling was the Irish had the superior resume, with two victories over Eden Prairie and another over defending champ Lakeville South.
And there was the ill-tempered way the Irish played defense, taking every yard gained against them personally. No team had reached 20 points against Rosemount.
"We knew they had a great defense, but we think we're pretty good, too," Lombardi said.
Crimson quarterback Jacob Kilzer spent much of the season hampered by injuries to both of his shoulders that forced him to adapt his style of play to more of a run-first approach. Lombardi, leaning into the emotion of the postgame moment, put his arms around Kilzer and called him "Mr. Football."
"I don't care what the award says," Lombardi growled, referencing the list of 10 Mr. Football finalists that was released recently without Kilzer's name.
"You don't know what he's been through, like putting up with two shoulders that are just hanging," Lombardi said. "He's having surgery two weeks after the season is done. He just goes and handles Maple Grove football. People say, 'He's only passed for 48 yards.' Well, he ran for 195. He did the role we needed."
In recent years, there's been a growing reference to the "Crimson Curse," something keeping Maple Grove from winning state championships despite repeated state tournament trips across a bevy of sports.
"We took care of that tonight," Kilzer said. "So the curse is broken, if there was a curse. This is just the start of our legacy. There will be many more to come for Coach Lombo and future generations of Crimson football."
Lombardi shook his head.
"There's no such thing as curses. When it comes down to it, it's whoever lays their heart on the line and whoever plays the hardest that night," he said.