'It kind of floods in. The sadness'
Edina was stopped just short of the goal line Friday on a two-point conversion attempt that, had it been successful, would have given the Hornets a one-point, come-from-behind victory over Centennial in the Class 6A championship game.
Edina had just gone 68 yards in 28 seconds, cutting the Centennial lead to 28-27 with 16 seconds left on a 21-yard scoring pass from Mason West to Sonny Villegas, setting up the crucial two-point conversion attempt.
Chase Bjorgaard took a shovel pass and tried to cut upfield through the interior of the line, but Marcus Whiting and Ayden Sadowski combined on a game-saving tackle.
The call on the field was that Bjorgaard was short, but it wasn't readily apparent. Replays from different angles led to questions about whether he had crossed the goal line. A final, definitive angle confirmed that the ball was inches short of the goal line when Bjorgaard's elbow and forearm touched the ground.
"You're kind of up and down," Edina coach Jason Potts said. "At first you think you get stopped. [Then] you look up at the JumboTron, you think you get in. And then you look again and you fall short."
Potts said he felt helpless.
"It's like everything slows down. You can feel your heart and the sound goes away and it's just a waiting game," he said. "You get the call and, and then it kind of floods in. The sadness."
Resilience is where you find it
Questioned about the undying spirit of his Chanhassen football team after the Storm won the first Class 5A Prep Bowl to be settled in overtime — their second overtime victory in as many weeks — senior lineman Dominic Castagnetto replied, "It's resilience. It's a word we are taught and use a ton. Coach [Cullen] Nelson taught us be resilient when facing adversity. We don't avoid adversity; we go right through it."
For inspiration, Chanhassen needed to look no further than offensive line coach Joe Coenen.
Nelson received a phone call hours before the Nov. 18 semifinal game against Andover.
Coenen, an assistant coach since the school's 2009 opening, had suffered an accident at home. He was headed to Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis to seek treatment for a separated shoulder and a concussion. But the patient had no patience.
"He breaks out of the hospital and comes to the stadium in his hospital gown," Nelson said. "He walks in, we gave him a shirt, and with a sling over his arm he watched the game from the press box. They had run a CT scan and claimed he was normal — but he's from Wisconsin."
Nelson continued: "When you talk about why our players are the way they are and why our coaches are the way they are, we feed off each other. For a guy to do that was crazy."
Coenen, who coached the Storm softball team to the Class 4A state tournament title, didn't miss a day of practice or school leading up to the Prep Bowl. He coached from the sideline in the championship game against St. Thomas Academy without wearing a sling. Hasn't found time to get back to the doctor.
"He cares about all these kids," Nelson said. "Joe Coenen is a stud."
DAVID LA VAQUE
Not champions, still winners
St. Thomas Academy's key players Luke Dobbs, Savion Hart, Teddy Knapp and Maximus Sims waited outside the interview room for about 10 minutes as Chanhassen players and coach Cullen Nelson completed their news conference.
The Cadets were gracious to exiting Storm players as well, a sign of mutual respect between combatants.
"Both teams were great and fought to the end," Hart said. "As a team, we wanted to win, but we felt good about the way we played and getting to overtime. It just went their way."
First-year Cadets head coach Travis Walch, though unable to break the program's run of six second-place finishes since 2000, took a longer view.
"This is how this team handles defeat and loss — they see the good in things," Walch said. "That's what we will always preach in this program. What you can see here is a lot of kids who are grateful for their opportunity and proud of themselves. I don't want them to feel anything else. They worked hard to get here."
DAVID LA VAQUE
Missing in action
Rocori lost junior safety/linebacker Grant Tylutki, the Spartans' second-leading tackler this season, to a concussion in the Class 4A championship game against Hutchinson.
"In the huddle he was saying, 'I'm having a tough time remembering,' " coach James Herberg said. "As much as you want to win a football game, every kid's safety is priority number one. So he needed to get checked out. It's a tough loss because he never comes off the field. It was a tough loss, but that's life."
DAVID LA VAQUE
A kick makes a memory
There was a lot for Stewartville to enjoy during the Tigers' 43-13 victory over Annandale in the Class 3A championship game.
But nothing was celebrated as exuberantly as the extra point that followed the team's final touchdown of the game. It was kicked by diminutive junior Leslie Kundert and resulted in wild cheers from the entire Stewartville bench.
Kundert's goal all season was to kick an extra point in a varsity game.
"He hasn't seen his way out on the field too much this year," said quarterback Ayden HeIder. "But during the offseason, you can drive by the practice field on any given night and see him out there, trying to kick extra points. Earlier this year, in a JV game, he had made one and we had all talked about it. He missed one on varsity earlier this year, but then for him to come and make one in a state championship, that was absolutely nuts."
"Guys were picking him up on the field. It was unbelievable."
Change of pace
Playing a Power-T offense, Barnesville is a team that lives to run the ball.
The approach has been mostly successful as the Trojans won the Class 2A title in 2022 and were the No. 1-ranked team in the class this season.
It has its drawbacks, however. As Barnesville found out in its 24-6 loss to a faster Eden Valley-Watkins team in the Class 2A championship game Friday, the Power-T is not conducive to comebacks.
Trailing 18-6 late in the third quarter, Barnesville was forced to throw the ball.
Coach Bryan Strand said his team was comfortable with the different approach, but it didn't play out successfully. Eden Valley-Watkins made four interceptions in the game. Its final three possessions ended in interceptions.
"We had to come out in our spread approach, which we practice a lot," Strand said. "We worked on it all year with every intention of using it when we needed it."
Strand had taken steps to prepare his team for Eden Valley-Watkins' speed, reaching out to former players who played in college. They asked some of their faster teammates to come to Barnesville's pre-Prep Bowl practices at North Dakota State to give the Trojans work against higher-end talent.
It didn't help.
"Normally, I complete passes better than that," Barnesville quarterback Zach Bredman said. "But that's the fastest team we've played. And I just didn't make the right reads."
Meagher going to the mat
Talk after Minneota's Class 1A Prep Bowl turned to the athletics future of junior running back Ryan Meagher.
He ran for 199 yards and tied a Prep Bowl record with five rushing touchdowns. So what's on tap for the winter season?
"Ryan is a basketball player for years, and he's a basketball player at heart," Vikings football and boys basketball coach Chad Johnston said. "But they convinced him it would be beneficial to do some wrestling this year."
Meagher, who is 5-9, said wrestling represents a homecoming of sorts. He anticipates wrestling close to 195 pounds.
"I wrestled in about fourth or fifth grade — but I was also playing basketball at the same time," Meagher said. "A lot of people have been asking me about wrestling again, so I made that decision."
DAVID LA VAQUE
The rules run deep
The Nine-Player game was affected, dramatically, by the enforcement of a rule that doesn't exist at other levels of football but is a national point of emphasis for high school officials.
An 87-yard touchdown run by Kingsland's Ayden Howard was called back on an "aiding the runner" penalty. Aiding the runner is allowed and popular in the NFL, the most obvious example being the "tush push" made famous by the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFL has allowed players to assist runners since 2005.
The popularity of the tush push actually led to the decision by the National Federation of High Schools to instruct officials to monitor aiding the runner more closely in 2023. "As guardians of the game, it is imperative that all stakeholders work together to remove 'helping the runner' from our high school game," the NFHS said.
The NFHS said the rule should be enforced as a "risk issue" and that the focus should be on ending plays when forward progress is stopped.
The play in Saturday's game wasn't a tush push or anything like it. Howard was beyond the line of scrimmage and fell forward as he was breaking a tackle. A teammate caught him by the shoulders and kept him from going down — the rule bans that "lift" — and he went on to the end zone. The touchdown would have mattered: Nevis defeated Kingsland 14-12.