Next host Minnetonka for right to Final 8
By Bob San
Osseo-Maple Grove Sports
His team had just defeated Anoka last Friday in a Section 5 quarterfinal game quite handily 27-7, but Maple Grove football coach Matt Lombardi had a look of concern when talking about the Crimson’s performance.
“Anoka is a tough, hardnosed team and is tough to score on but we had a lot of penalties, between 10 and 15 penalties,” Lombardi said. “Seems like every drive we had we would go forward two steps and back one. We are happy to get through step one. But if we play like that that’s probably not going to get us very far.”
That’s because waiting in the next round are the Minnetonka Skippers, who will visit Crimson Stadium Friday, Nov. 1 for a 7 p.m. for a section crossover game. The winner will advance to the Final 8 and will play at the Dome or TCF Stadium.
Against Anoka, the Crimson got another stellar performance from its defense, which shut out the Tornadoes until the fourth quarter and scored once. The Maple Grove offense started off well and struck for a six-yard touchdown run by Isaac Collins and a 15-yard TD run by Tahi Nomane. But after that, the Crimson gained lots of yards (281 yards rushing, 50 passing) but could not finish any more drives.
“We dropped a pitch that was wide open, they stopped us on the one with a good play,” Lombardi said. “Offensively, we have to be a lot better. We have been playing well all year. Today is probably one of our weaker games but we still found ways to win so there is something to be said about that. A big part of our team is our defense and they played well.”
The Crimson managed to win by a comfortable margin because of the fine work of the special team and defense. Collins ignited the home crowd and gave Maple Grove an insurance score when he returned the second half kick off 93 yards for a touchdown. Maple Grove defense was tough as nail and a 20-0 lead was money in the bank. After Anoka scored on a late TD pass, the Maple Grove defense countered when Peder Olson intercepted a pass and ran it back 17 yards for the final score.
“We just play hard defense, fly around and have fun out there,” said senior middle linebacker Emmanual Ehrich.
The Crimson might be having fun, but they have made life miserable for the other team’s offense. Not only do they shut down the other teams, but they also give the Crimson offense great field positions by causing turnovers. And the Crimson defenders have scored five touchdowns themselves.
“Our motto is three and out, try to cause turnovers and score,” Ehrich said, adding that veteran experience and good preparation each week are reasons for the defense’s dominance this season.
“We have seven or eight starters returning on defense so we are a pretty experienced group,” Ehrich said. “The guys know their stuff. That’s why we are having so much success on defense. We know we have a good defense. We just watch films and learn the other team’s tendencies and get better. That preparation we put in during the week is key.”
The Crimson know they will face a tough challenge when Minnetonka comes to town Friday night. Last year, the same two teams met at the same stage and the Skippers left Crimson Stadium a 17-3 winner.
“It’s going to be a good game,” Ehrich said. “They have a star quarterback and are pretty hard-nosed. We will just have to come out and play like a 9-0 team and hopefully we will win.”
“We will have to do a lot better against a great Minnetonka team,” Lombardi said. “They are a great program and I respect them a lot. We are excited to have them here. If we can cut back our penalties and finish our drives we will do OK.”
Lombardi feels this year’s team has the ingredients for success in the post-season.
“This team resembles more of the personality that I like,” Lombardi said. “Our team plays great defense and runs the ball. If you look at historically in Minnesota high school football that’s who wins it. The Wayzatas and Eden Prairies, that’s what they do. What I like about this year’s team is that we run the football and play great defense. That’s the recipe that I like so I feel good about that.”