By Bob San
Before the 2012 football season began, most experts predicted that no Northwest Suburban Conference team would be able to beat Champlin Park. The Rebels returned numerous top players and appeared the class of the league.
Last Wednesday, Oct. 17, the Maple Grove Crimson proved the experts wrong when they scratched out a 17-12 away win to capture the conference title.
The Crimson led 7-0 in the first quarter when Blake Skaja threw an 82-yard touchdown pass to Jake Wieneke. Champlin Park made it 7-6 midway in the second quarter on a touchdown run, but the Maple Grove defense came up big in the third quarter.
First, Tyler Field recorded a sack. On the next play the Rebels fumbled at their own 20. The Crimson’s Jake Engelken picked up the loose ball and ran for a 20-yard touchdown. Brycen Wojta converted his second PAT to make it 14-6. Wojta increased the lead to 17-6 with an 18-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Champlin Park came right back with a touchdown pass at 7:57 of the quarter to cut Maple Grove’s lead to 17-12.
The Rebels got the ball back with 4:34 left at their own 40. They drove to the MG 25 before the Crimson defense stopped CP on a fourth-and-three pass to regain possession with 1:52 left.
The Crimson managed to hold onto the ball and run out the clock. The big play was a Skaja to Wieneke pass for 18 yards and a game-clinching first down.
Wieneke had another huge night, catching seven passes for 198 yards. Skaja completed 11 of 20 passes for one touchdown and two interceptions. Wojta had another strong overall games, making four catches, kicking a field goal and two PATs and intercepting a pass.
Defensively, the Crimson held the Rebels to 37 yards passing. Field led the way with 13 tackles, one interception and one fumble. Ben Dahl-Maglone added eight tackles, and Gunnar Ayres, Emmanual Ehrich, Erik Skrivseth and Theo Frier each had six tackles.
The hard-fought victory gave Maple Grove a 7-1 record, 8-0 counting the forfeit win over Osseo. Crimson coach Matt Lombardi led the Crimson their first conference title since 2005 in only his second season as the head coach.
“The kids have really bought into what we are doing and have worked really hard,” Lombardi said. “When you have a bunch of kids that believe, usually the results come. You have to give a lot of credits to the kids and their parents. They let us turn this thing around and change things up. If they don’t buy into there is no chance.”
The Crimson are seeded first in the section (see related article) and open against No. 8 Coon Rapids Friday, Oct. 26.