Vikings run past Tigers, win 8th state football title
Class A State Football Tournament Championship • Springfield vs. Minneota • U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis • Dec. 2
MINNEAPOLIS — Scoring three consecutive touchdowns in the second half to erase a 13-10 halftime deficit on Friday, the Minneota Vikings picked up a 38-21 win over the Springfield Tigers in the Class A State Football Tournament Championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It was the eighth state football championship for Minneota total and the fifth for head coach Chad Johnston. He also earned his 200th career win with the victory.
“You look down the line, and over the years, lot of these kids have had parents playing in the Prep Bowl and that tradition means a lot to me to be able to say that there has been no downslide in this program since the 80s,” Johnston said. “Kids have worked hard to keep us on the map and credit goes to the kids, really does.”
Minneota was able to pile up 243 yards rushing in the win and held the Tigers to 27 yards rushing. The Vikings also controlled the clock with 34 minutes, 29 seconds of possession time to Springfield’s 13 minutes, 31 seconds.
Zack Fier led the Vikings on the ground with 30 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
After finishing runner-up in the state championship last year, Fier said he first started gaining confidence late in the third quarter Friday.
“I felt like deep in the third quarter, just because we’ve been in this situation,” Fier said. “Last year, we lost it. It sucks, and we were determined that we weren’t going to let it happen again. Our offensive line kept getting holes and wearing people out and the holes just started getting bigger and bigger and it eventually wore them out.”
Ryan Meagher added eight carries for 73 yards and a touchdown, while Lucas Rybinski rushed for 13 yards and two scores on 13 carries.
Minneota quarterback Isaac Pohlen completed 5 of 7 passes for 97 yards and an interception. Maxwell Rost had two catches for 75 yards for the Vikings.
“Offensively, not a ton of surprises,” Springfield head coach Adam Meyer said of Minneota. “We knew they’d throw just enough to try to keep us off-balance, and they do that very well. Their quarterback throws a good ball, they have talented receivers out there. … Defensively, they played us a little softer coverage maybe than expected. But again, not a whole lot of stuff you haven’t seen when you’re in Game 13, 14, you’ve seen it all throughout the season, so your kids can adjust. It just comes down to executing and making plays when you have opportunities.”
While the first half looked like the game would come down to who had the ball last, everything seemed to click for the Vikings in the second half as they got touchdown runs from Zack Fier (1-yard), Lucas Rybinski (4-yard) and Fier (1-yard) to take a commanding 31-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers ended the first half in front 13-10 after quarterback Jakob Nachreiner found Carter Olson in the end zone for a 16-yard score. The PAT was no good.
Before that, the Vikings appeared to be headed into halftime with a 10-7 lead after a 36-yard field goal try from Peyton Gillund was good with just 1:14 left in the half.
But Nachreiner completed four passes after that field goal to put the Tigers back in front before the half.
“Felt good going into the half, but obviously we know we have a whole second half to play,” Meyer said. “And against a team like Minneota that’s been here and done it before, you know they’re going to bring intensity and high-end execution in the second half as well. I think it just came down to them wearing us out. The time of possession was really lopsided. We had some struggles getting our run game going, and that’s a huge credit to those guys [Minneota].”
Nachreiner completed 20 of 24 passes for 339 yards in the state semifinals against Deer River but was held in check by the Minneota defense Friday as he completed 14 of 21 passes for 195 yards, two scores and an interception.
The Minneota defense was also able to put some pressure on Nachreiner, led by Sawyer DeSmet’s two sacks. Hudson Scholten and Anthony Rybinski also each had a sack for the Vikings.
Johnston said that with having to make some adjustments on defense coming into this season, he was extremely happy with how his guys played and limited Nachreiner.
“We were able to get a little bit of pressure on [Nachreiner] at times,” Johnston said. “I think it helps us a little bit when you know they’re in passing situations. You get a little bit of a lead, and you know they’ve got to throw it, but extremely happy with our kids … That’s a talented team, lot of weapons. I told the guys they were going to make big plays, you’ve just got to stay focused and understand that and just realize that we’ve got to stick to our game plan.”
Both defenses made their mark early in the first quarter, with Minneota flexing its muscles first. The Tigers first drive went nowhere as they were forced to punt from their own 6-yard line after a sack by Anthony Rybinski on third down and a false start by the Tigers on fourth down.
Minneota then drove down the field and got into the red zone before Sam Pidde intercepted a pass and took it 27 yards to the Springfield 29-yard line to give the Tigers their second drive.
On the first play of that drive, a 41-yard catch by Olson deep down the left side of the field set the Tigers up at the Vikings’ 30. After seven plays got the Tigers to the 1-yard line, Ashtin Johnson punched the ball in to give the Tigers the first lead of the game with 3:35 left in the first quarter.
Ashtin Johnson, who spent the last two weeks recovering from a sprained ankle suffered in the semifinals win over Deer River, was held to 14 yards on eight carries.
The Vikings tied the game on their next drive with an 8-play, 46-yard drive that was finished off with a 9-yard TD run by Meagher early in the second quarter.
Late in the second quarter, Pohlen completed a 37-yard pass deep down the left sideline to Rost to set the Vikings up at the Springfield 38. After running the ball into the red zone, the Vikings settled on the field goal to lead 10-7.
Pidde gave Springfield some hope early in the fourth quarter, catching a 37-yard TD pass to trail 31-19. A 2-point conversion catch by MaCoy Krick made it a 31-21 game.
But Minneota was able to punch in another touchdown with 3:29 left to play on a 1-yard run by Lucas Rybinski.
Ashton Toll rushed for 20 yards on two carries also for the Tigers, while Olson also caught eight passes for 89 yards, while Toll had two receptions for 24 yards. Toll led the Tigers on defense with 16 total tackles, while Pidde and Sam Rummel each had 11 total tackles. Mitchell Streich and Olson each recorded a sack also for Springfield.
Minneota had 340 total yards of offense, while Springfield finished with 209 yards of total offense.
Springfield graduates nine seniors from this year’s 11-3 team. Luke Boyle, one Tigers senior, called his final game a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“It’s been a once-in-a-life opportunity,” Tigers senior Luke Boyle said. “This is our goal at the end of the year to get to this game. Just to be here — it’s like a family with these guys — and just to be here with this family is such a great opportunity, and there’s no one I’d rather do it with.”
Ashtin Johnson, another senior, echoed Boyle’s thoughts about the team being a family.
“It for sure was a once-in-a-life opportunity like Luke said, but it was an experience that not many can experience and we were one of those teams that got here,” Ashtin Johnson said. “And I feel like it all started with our bond as a team. It was more than a team, it was like a family.”
While the Tigers didn’t achieve the ultimate goal they set out for at the start of the season, the team is stocked with young talent, which includes 11 sophomores and 11 juniors, that will be looking to make another run next season.