The top 50 teams of the fall from 2010-2019 concludes. Squads from the “Journal 10,” FC, R-P, Chatfield, Kingsland, M-C, Houston, Lanesboro, GM, SG, and L-O have been eligible. Ranking across different years, and involving teams from three different sports, is difficult, and thus subject to debate. Ranking is by how far teams made it in the play-offs. Each school had at least one squad in the top 50. M-C volleyball (10), SG football (8), and GM football (7) had the most teams recognized. Chatfield volleyball (5), Chatfield football (4), and FC volleyball (3) came in next. Here is the list of teams 50 down to seven: #50 Chatfield VB 2015, #49 L-O FB 2019, #48 M-C VB 2011, #47 FC VB 2012, #46 M-C VB 2010, #45 Chatfield VB 2011, #44 Kingsland VB 2010, #43 Chatfield VB 2010, #42 Chatfield VB 2012, #41 SG VB 2018, #40 M-C VB 2014, #39 MC VB 2012, #38 MC VB 2016, #37 MC VB 2017, #36 MC VB 2013, #35 Houston FB 2019, #34 GM FB 2011, #33 Chatfield FB 2018, #32 Chatfield FB 2019, #31 Chatfield VB 2013, #30 FC FB 2015, #29 Houston FB 2018, #28 FC VB 2014, #27 SG FB 2013, #26 SG FB 2016, #25 RP FB 2014, #24 SG FB 2015, #23 SG FB 2014, #22 FC FB 2016, #21 Chatfield FB 2012, #20 M-C VB 2018, #19 SG FB 2012, #18 MC VB 2015, #17 MC VB 2019, #16 LARP Boys C-C 2019, #15 GM FB 2019, #14 LFC Girls C-C 2016, #13 LFC Girls C-C 2015, #12 SG FB 2011, #11 Lanesboro FB 2010, #10 GM Football 2012, #9 R-P Football 2016, #8 FC VB 2013, #7 GM FB 2013. The last six teams to be addressed (last seven overall) are all state champions. Five went undefeated. Placing the five undefeated state title teams (below) is done via PPG-scored versus PPG-against and yards-per-game versus yards-per-game-given-up. All were great.
#6) Spring Grove
As defending state champion, Spring Grove (14-0) was state-ranked #1 all season despite suiting up the fewest players in at least seven decades. The 2018 state championship was most likely decided, not inside U.S. Bank Stadium, but on a frozen field with brutal below-zero wind chill in a state quarterfinal (in New Ulm). Spring Grove overcame both the elements and strong but unranked Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, 27-26. The winning 18-yard TD pass came with only 39 seconds to play. The Knights were on the SG 20 yard-line when the game ended with an interception by Noah Elton. Despite there being four state-ranked clashes, that quarterfinal was the only game decided by fewer than 18 points. Zach Hauser’s group then swept the state semi-final, 48-12 over Cromwell-Wright, and the championship game, 40-18 over Mountain Lake Area. They also won the South-East district and beat Houston (countdown team #29) in the section final, 28-6. The Lions averaged almost 45 points per game and allowed 17 while extending their winning streak to 28 games. The 62% third-down conversion rate was the second best in program history. Senior Alex Folz (QB/S) was the only Minnesota Mr. Football finalist from a 9-man team. He was Minnesota Vikings All-State and 2nd Team AP All-State (all classes). For the second straight year, Folz was Sub-District “Back of the Year,” 1st Team 9-man All-State, All-Area, and Lion M.V.P. He was All-District for a third time, putting up huge numbers (2,605 yards, 41 TDs rushing; 2,342 yards, 29 TDs, 8 INTs passing; team second-best 116 tackles, six interceptions). Folz graduated with 22 Lion rushing, passing, and scoring records; nine career, nine single-season, and four single-game. Fellow senior Ethan Matzke (TE/DE > 474 yards, 8 TDs receiving) also repeated 9-Man All-State. He was the first Lion since 1949 to be 1st Team AP All-State (all classes). He was All-District for a second year, Sub-District ‘Lineman of the Year,” and a team captain while playing in the Minnesota All-Star Showcase game. Senior Takoda Boyd (WR/CB > team third best 111 tackles) received Honorable Mention 9-Man All-State. Along with Matzke and Folz, Boyd was joined on the All-District Team by senior Noah Elton (WR/LB > 75-892 yards, 11 TDS receiving, 13 total TDs) and junior Kyle Hagen (OG/LB). Elton broke single-season and single-game reception records and graduated with Lion career records in total receptions, TD receptions, and receiving yardage. Kai Bjerke (Sr. WR/LB) and Calvin Sylling (Sr. OL/DL) were A-D HM. This year was the eighth year (of eight straight) where SG at least made the 9-Man section 1 finals.
#5) Spring Grove
The 2017 state champions won all 14 games, eight of which were state-ranked showdowns! Spring Grove began ranked #5 but was #1 after four games. There were five games during which the Lions did not punt. The only real tests did not come in the three state tournament games, but instead while defeating section runner-up Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran, twice, by one-point each time. At state, the Lions outscored their three opponents, 93-13. They beat Verndale 34-6, Stephen-Argyle 27-7, and shut-out Nevis 32-0 in the state final. The win claimed SG (14-0) its first football state title. It was a miraculous season opener when the Lions rallied from a three-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime before defeating Cleveland/IL, 52-51. Nine double-digit-margin wins later in the section title game, the #1-ranked Lions faced #4-ranked C/IL again and trailed again in the fourth quarter, by 14 points, before taking their first lead of the game with only eight seconds to play, 36-35. In between, the Lions routed Class A state-ranked Randolph on the road, 53-7, before out-slogging #3 Houston in the mud, 26-6. Grove ended a nine-game losing streak versus #5 Grand Meadow, 33-20, and later eliminated the Super Larks in the section semi-finals, 40-17. SG, while averaging 45 points a game, scored five defensive TDs and five special teams TDs. Four Lions were 1st Team 9-Man All-State and All-District, junior Alex Folz (QB/LB), senior Cullen Patterson (RB/CB), senior Sam Sanness (OG/DL) and junior Ethan Matzke (WR/DE). Folz (1,581 yards, 26 TDs rushing; 2,298 yards, 28 TDS, 11 INTs passing; interception return TD) was 3rd Team AP All-State (all classes). He was also the sub-district “Back of the Year,” All-Area, and Lion MVP after breaking his own school total-offense records, career and single-season. Patterson (1,321 yards, 17 TDs rushing, 18 total TDs) also topped 1,000 yards rushing. Sanness (507 yards, 6 TDs receiving; 7 ½ sacks), who was All-Area, and Matzke (10 ½ sacks) combined for 18 sacks. Junior Noah Elton (WR/LB) was All-District and received 9-Man All-State HM (51-829, 9 TDs receiving, 12 total TDs). Zach Hauser was the 9-Man State Coach of the Year. Senior Taylor Holty (OL/LB) made A-D HM (having led SG with 150 tackles). This season was a massive relief for the Lions, as, with very strong teams, they had fallen to GM five straight years in the section final. They not only ended that string, but took the Larks place atop the Minnesota 9-Man heap for a two-year span.
#4) Grand Meadow
It was the “three-peat” year. Super Lark football entered 2015 having won state titles in 2013 (countdown team #7) and 2014 (countdown team #3). They entered on a 22-game win streak including a perfect season in 2014, albeit they lost three-year stand-out Landon Jacobson among their graduations. The Larks reloaded, amongst other transitions, turning to running backs Christopher Bain and Zach Myrhe. Gary Sloan’s group replicated the perfect season feat of 2014 in similarly strong fashion. GM won its first seven regular season games all by at least 30 points. They scored at least 49 in six of those seven wins, with the lone exception a 36-6 victory over Randolph in week two. As usual, rival Spring Grove (countdown team #24) was their stiffest test. GM downed the Lions 21-20 in a huge season finale to win the South-East district title. The Larks then rolled through the post-season, closest game a 14-point win. They beat Alden-Conger 40-14, Houston 33-8, and Spring Grove 35-7 to claim the 9-Man Section 1 title for a fourth straight year. At the state level, Cleveland fell 52-14 in the quarters, Waubun 35-20 in the semis, and Underwood 34-20 in the finals. Quarterback Michael Stejskal posted season highs in passing yards (221), passing TDs (3), and rushing yards (114), accounting for four total TDs, to lead GM to victory in the title game. In its fourth straight state title game, GM captured its third straight championship; the second via an undefeated season (14-0). The Larks ran for 3,409 yards and passed for 1,447 yards on the season (4,856 total yards), a total-yards-per-game-average of 347. They ran for more yards (3,409) than their opponents had total yards (2,839). Five Larks made All-District. Repeating were seniors Stejskal (QB/DB) and Connor Hartson (OL/DL). Stejskal was the South-East “Back of the Year” (643 yards, 14 TDs rushing; 1,332 yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs passing; team second-best 105 tackles) and 9-Man All-State at QB. Hartson was 9-Man All-State at defensive line (team second-best nine sacks). Fellow senior Michael Oehlke (OL/LB), junior Christopher Bain (RB/LB), and sophomore Zach Myhre (RB/LB) also made A-D. Oehlke had a team third-best eight sacks. Bain (1,233 yards, 29 TDs rushing; 553 yards, 7 TDs receiving) was GM’s most used offensive weapon and their leading tackler (116 total tackles). He was 9-Man All-State at RB. Myhre (702 yards, 9 TDs rushing, 12 total TDs) was the second leading rusher. Senior Trevor Sloan (team third-best 96 tackles) and junior Connor King (team-best 11 sacks) were All-District HM. Junior Brenn Olson (9) and senior Terrell Rieken (8) combined for 17 interceptions. Gary Sloan was the South-East Coach of the Year. If not already poured and cured, this team cemented GM as the state’s preeminent 9-Man dynasty of the time. The win streak improved to 36. It got longer yet.
#3) Grand Meadow
It was the final year of Grand Meadow’s remarkable run. From 2012 to 2016, Lark football teams made the state finals each year. The 2016 incarnation grabbed the Larks their fourth straight state title. Lots of points were scored by both GM and their opponents throughout the season, though Gary Sloan’s group was never tested in a single-digit game. The Larks won their third straight SEC or South-East District out-right title by going undefeated through the regular season (8-0). They scored at least 44 points in every game, topping 60 four times. A 13-point win over rival Spring Grove (countdown team #26) in the season finale was GM’s closest contest. After pounding L/P 50-0 and Houston 49-22 in the play-offs, team Super won its fifth straight Section 1 9-Man crown by beating the Lions 41-21. At the state level, GM shut-out Edgerton/Ellsworth 36-0 in the quarters and Waubun 35-0 in the semis. In the final, they took out Cleveland 41-21. It clinched a third straight 14-0 state title season, running the win streak to 50. GM’s lowest scoring game of the year was the 35-0 win the state semis. Only that game and the 36-0 win in the quarters saw the Larks score less than 40. Oddly, they pitched four shut-outs (three in the play-offs), had zero games where opponents scored single-digit points, but ten contests where foes scored 10-plus. The 53.2 point-per-game average and 6,176 total yards were the highest of all GM state title teams. The 16.1 points-per-game given up was also the highest of all GM state title teams. Seniors Christopher Bain (RB/LB), Connor King (G/DE), Brenn Olson (WR/DB), and Blake Benson (TE/DL) made the All-South-East district team, as well as junior Zach Myhre (RB/LB). Bain (2,337 yards, 41 TDs rushing, 42 total offensive TDs) and Myhre (1,131 yards, 17 TDs rushing, 19 total offensive TDs; team-best 130 tackles) each repeated A-D while making 9-Man All-State at RB and LB respectively. Bain was the South-East “Defensive Player of the Year” (team second-best 123 tackles). King was 9-Man All-State at offensive line (team third-best 110 tackles, eight sacks). Benson was the “Lineman of the Year.” He made 9-Man All-State at D-line. Olson threw for 1,082 yards and 14 TDs with just a single INT (adding 6 rushing TDs). Senior Wes Ojulu (WR/S > team-high seven TD catches) and junior Kyle Oehlke (RB/LB > team-best 14 sacks) were A-D HM. Gary Sloan was the South-East “Coach of the Year.” A year later, GM’s 9-Man football stranglehold ended. Houston ended the Larks win streak at 51. GM took a two year break, then returned to state in 2019. It was their sixth section title of the decade, their sixth state berth.
#2) Chatfield Football 2013
Like Fillmore Central volleyball the exact same year, time shines brightly upon Chatfield football circa 2013. A year earlier, the Gophers (countdown team #21) lost two games (9-2). They fell in the regular season 6-0 to Caledonia, then 29-0 again to the Warriors in the section final. To start 2013, they returned an excellent senior class headed by three-year starters Jake Neis, Jayme LaPlante, and Nate Skare. Game one was a hyped battle with the #1 Warriors again. The Gophers fell 19-18. It would be their only loss of the season. Jeff Johnson’s crew blitzed through its other regular season opponents, closest game a 24-7 victory over R-P. Their average margin of victory in those seven games was 27.7 PPG. Chatfield wasn’t scored on in weeks three (34-0), four (41-0), and five (31-0), and only gave up 14 total points from week three through seven (in Class AA). The Gophers (ranked #9) then hammered St. Charles (61-20) and #10 Triton (35-3) in the play-offs to force a re-match with three-time defending state champion #1 Caledonia (10-0) in the section final. Chatfield held the Warriors multiple times in the red zone. The team’s each scored one TD and one field goal for a 10-10 score after regulation. In OT, the Gophers settled for a Nate Skare 27-yard field goal. But it was all they needed. Gopher senior A.J. Riley intercepted Caledonia’s first pass and the Chatfield performed the rarest of rare feats, beating the Warriors 13-10 in OT! The win put the Gophers at state for the first time since 1999, their seventh time overall. Chatfield then powered past Jackson County Central 32-6 in the quarters and Hawley 41-21 in the semis. In the finals versus #4 Minneota/Lincoln HI, Chatfield scored the contest’s first 17 points. Nate Skare’s late three-yard TD run on 3rd and goal was a fitting end. The Gophers prevailed 17-7 for their first state championship since 1996, their fourth overall. Making All-SFA Blue were seniors Jayme LaPlante (TE/DE), Jake Neis (RB/DB), Nate Skare (QB), Sawyer Prinsen (OL/DL), juniors Ian Morrison (OL/DL) and Drew Hurley (WR/S). Neis three-peated as All-league after rushing for around 1,800 yards and 30 TDs. LaPlante and Skare repeated. LaPlante was also named All-State 3rd team. Neis (#3), LaPlante (#8), and sophomore starting linebacker Carter Duxbury (#15) were each top football players in last springs “All-Decade Football Top 20.” A year later, the Gophers were again good (started 3-1), had the Warriors in a bind in the regular season, only for injuries to derail the campaign. But Johnson took two more teams to section title games in the 2010’s, in 2018 (countdown team #33) and 2019 (countdown team #32). The win over Caledonia in the section final is outstanding. It was the only time in the entire decade a team beat the Warriors at the section play-off level (27-1). It was one of only three losses for the Warriors the entire decade! Caledonia won eight state titles in Class AA and is currently riding a nation-wide 71-game win streak.
#1) Grand Meadow
It could be called “the repeat year.” For Super Lark football mid-2010-decade, it was all about win-win-win repetition. Grand Meadow entered the 2014 campaign having just one the school’s first ever state title in football (countdown team #7). They proceeded to mostly dominate their way to another. Gary Sloan’s group only faced really one true test the entire season, section rival Spring Grove. GM downed the Lions (countdown team #23) in week two, 20-18. It was the only game where an opponent stayed within 20 points. The Larks scored 47 points or more in all seven other regular season victories to win the SEC (8-0). But GM took it to an entirely different level in the post-season. The Lark defense allowed just six total points in six play-off games! GM beat G-E 51-0 in the section quarters, Lanesboro 49-6 in the section semis, and blanked SG 23-0 to claim it third straight 9-Man Section 1 crown. They then shut-out all three state level opponents, Underwood 20-0, Kittson County Central 49-0, and Edgerton/Ellsworth 48-0! GM (14-0) repeated as state champion (having made their third straight 9-Man state title game). Landon Jacobson scored 10 TDs in the three state wins. The offense was great on the season, totaling 5,743 yards (4,089 rushing, 1,645 passing), averaging 410 yards and 48.1 points per game. But the defense was stuff of legend. Foes scored a total of 82 points in 14 games (5.9 PPG). Over the last 10 games, GM yielded just 32 points (3.2 PPG). Foes were limited to 161 YPG. Side-by-side to the other four 14-0 state title teams on this list, GM 2014 had the second highest points-per-game-for (to GM 2016), the lowest points and yardage against. Six Larks made the All-SEC team, headed by senior RB/LB Landon Jacobson, who three-peated. He was the SEC’s ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ for a second time (team leader with 140 total tackles) and made 9-Man All-State at RB (1,617 yards, 29 TDs rushing, 35 offensive TDs). He had seven games with three or more TDs. Senior lineman Jordan Miland repeated as All-SEC, earning “Lineman of the Year.” He made 9-Man All-State on the defensive line (team second-best 99 tackles). Senior Wyatt Richardson (OL/DL), juniors Blake Olson (RB/DB), Connor Hartson (TE/DE), and Michael Stejskal (QB/DB) made the All-SEC list for a first time. Richardson was 9-Man All-State on the offensive line. Stejskal (555 yards, 7 TDs rushing; 1,299 yards, 22 TDs, 3 INTs passing) stepped in nicely for a graduated Trenton Bleifus at QB, making 9-Man All-State at defensive back. Olson (206 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs passing; 359 yards, 6 TDs receiving) led the Larks in receiving yards. Sophomore Blake Benson (OL/DL) made All-SEC HM (team-high eight sacks, team third-best 90 tackles). Coach Sloan considered the 2014 Larks “one of the best 9-man football teams of all-time.” After the 2014 season, GM’s win streak was 22. It got much larger.
*Fillmore County Journal Sports page is a written collaboration by Paul Trende and Lee Epps.