by Bob San – Sun Press Newspapers
Even as they were marching towards an 8-0 regular season, a conference championship and a No. 2 state ranking, Matt Lombardi and his Maple Grove football team heard the talk. The Crimson did not play a very tough schedule and they have not really been tested, these so-called experts said.
After the Crimson defeated perennial state power Minnetonka 14-9 last Friday for the section championship and a trip to the state tournament, Lombardi had a few words to say to those self-proclaimed football gurus.
“There are a lot of doubters. I am sure we were picked to lose by many around the state,” Lombardi said. “But I think in a weird way it showed we are a decent team and we do belong. The people who make those predictions really don’t know what’s going on anyway and I always just laugh at them because I know how good Minnetonka is and I know (Minnetonka coach) Dave Nelson respects us and our program.”
Judging by the state tournament seedings, the Crimson certainly have the respect of the coaches. The 10-0 Crimson are seeded second, behind No. 1 and defending state champion Eden Prairie. Rosemount, Osseo and Totino Grace are the third, fourth and fifth seeds, respectively. The other three teams are Eastview, Roseville and Lakeville North. Maple Grove plays Roseville at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at TCF Bank Stadium.
Maple Grove players certainly were not affected by those disparaging comments about their team. They enter state with tons of confidence.
“We need to keep going to the next level, keep playing hard, sweep up the hiccups and we can show we are the best team and the best defense in the state,” senior free safety Jake Engelken said.
Asked if he thinks the Maple Grove defense can take on the state’s best offense, Engelken said: “Of course. We can take on any offense in the state.”
Senior linebacker Emmanual Ehrich goes as far as playing Joe Namath in terms of making predictions.
“We proved these people wrong,” Ehrich said. “Whoever you put in front of us we will get ready for that game and I guarantee you we are going to win that game.”
If they beat Roseville, the Crimson will advance to the semifinal at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Metrodome.