MINNEAPOLIS — The Blooming Prairie football program has churned out some darn good teams in Chad Gimbel’s 20-plus years as head coach, particularly in the last decade.
None, however, had been able to climb to the top of the Class A mountain and plant its flag as Prep Bowl champions.
Until Friday, that is.
Buoyed by a nearly unstoppable passing attack and countering with a gnarly defense that held one of the state’s top offenses scoreless in the game’s final 24 minutes, the Awesome Blossoms captured the program’s first ever football state championship with a resounding 41-15 victory over No. 1-ranked BOLD at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
From start to finish, the three-month campaign was truly a tour de force for a Blossoms team that simply wasn’t going to be denied.
“You know, it’s awesome,” Gimbel said in front of a dozen or so reporters at the postgame press conference. “Right now, I am trying to just soak it all in. It’s a journey; it’s a process and hopefully these kids have learned a lot outside of football. Doing it with these seniors that have been with the program as three-year starters, it means the world to us. They’re great football players, but even better kids. And that’s what makes it so much fun.”
For the players, the championship transcended football and was the product of a unified group that took pride in reaching milestones as a unit and played with pride for a tight-knit, rural community of just fewer than 2,000 residents.
“We have lots of fans out there,” senior Jarrett Larson said. “I looked up and all the bleachers were filled today. Us helping the community and them giving back by coming to the games is huge. Coming from a small town and bringing home the state championship to Blooming Prairie is amazing.”
“We’ve built a brotherhood I would say,” fellow senior Dylan Nirk added “We are all hanging out every weekend, bowling or just playing video games. It’s a brotherhood that I think really helped us. We aren’t a team, we are a family.”
Though the unbreakable bond solidified off the field undoubtedly played a major role in the Blossoms’ success, winning football games comes down to executing between the lines, and this particular group certainly excelled in that regard.
From a lethally-efficient pitch-and-catch aerial attack to its an unrelenting defensive front line, the Blossoms put it all on display in Minneapolis against the Warriors.
Quarterback Kaden Thomas was nearly perfect in the second half and finished 23-for-30 for 298 yards and four touchdowns, half of which went to Gabe Hagen. Four different BP players caught at least three passes as Matthew Pryor and Karson Vigeland also found the end zone on throws from Thomas.
It was Hagen, though, that stole the show.
Getting the scoring started with an interception return for a touchdown on an errant throw that he plucked from the air near the line of scrimmage, Hagen found the end zone three times and finished with 125 yards on eight receptions, many of which came against BOLD’s all-district defensive back, Gavin Vosika,
“It was just about making plays,” Hagen said. “Vosika is a great cornerback and he played me really well, but I just went up there and made plays.”
As wide as the final margin grew, the outcome was very much in-doubt at halftime after Blake Plass glided into the end zone untouched from 14 yards out to help draw BOLD within 21-15 with just 27 seconds on the clock.
Taking the ball on a pivotal opening drive to start the third quarter, the Warriors gained offensive traction and drove into BP territory, but did nothing more than chew up valuable time after turning the ball over on downs at the 31-yard line.
Aided by Thomas’ 3-for-3 effort through the air and capped by a highlight-reel 12-yard touchdown reception by Hagen, the Blossoms’ advantage swelled to 28-15 with 5 minutes, 44 seconds on the clock. The TD reception by Hagen, which had more than 3,200 views on Twitter less than 90 minutes after the game, came after the ball bounced off his chest and was speared with one hand mere inches from the ground as he fell backwards with Vosika breathing down his neck in air-tight coverage.
“Kaden threw it a little short, so I went up and got a hand on it,” Hagen said. “It bounced off my chest and then I reached out, tipped it to my body and caught it. I saw it land in my hand.”
With the Blossoms defense tightening the screws and forcing back-to-back scoreless BOLD drives, Blooming Prairie landed the knockout blow when Vigeland snatched a pass across the middle for a 12-yard touchdown with 10:04 on the clock to help give the Blossoms what proved to be an insurmountable 34-15 lead.
On the ensuing possession — which would turn out to be the final time the Warriors would touch the ball with even slight chance of winning the game — the Blossoms forced three consecutive incomplete passes from Mr. Football finalist, Jordan Sagedahl, and watched as BOLD had no choice but to punt the ball trailing by three touchdowns.
Sagedahl, who was coming off a 355-yard performance in the state semifinals, was held to just 219 yards on 15 of 37 passing. He was intercepted once and sacked six times, twice by Jarrett Larson and once apiece by Hagen Dylan Nirk and Luke Larkoski.
“Our coaches really preach on how games are won in the trenches,” Nirk said. “So our line really wanted to step up and take this one home. We played with high intensity and just kept it going.”
The Awesome Blossoms also stymied the Warriors’ rushing attack, keeping them to to just 19 yards, and held BOLD to 3 of 12 on third downs.
“When you go into a game and their wide receivers are bigger than your offensive linemen, it’s a tough task,” first-year BOLD coach, Derek Flann, said. “And being able to run the ball we knew it was going to be difficult thing…Looking back at (BP’s) film, they didn’t blitz a lot coming into the game today, so were preparing to block a couple of their d-linemen who are really good up front, so we were shifting our center toward (Nirk), who we thought was a pretty talented kid and as we were doing that, we were unable to step to the backside and pick up the blitz in the B-gap.”
Starting possession at the Warriors’ 41-yard line with 9:35 left in the fourth quarter, Blooming Prairie engineered a back-breaking 13-yard, 59-yard drive that sapped almost nine minutes off the clock and landed the final blow with a 6-yard Pryor TD run on fourth down with 45 seconds on the clock.
Following a kickoff, a timeout and a Warriors’ kneel-down, the exuberant Blossoms’ sideline spilled onto the field and began a celebration that was three months in the making and well-deserved for a Blossoms’ team that knew they had just defeated a formidable opponent. They earned every yard, every first down and every score in a matchup that many saw people coming when the teams ascended to the top of the Associated Press poll in mid-October.
“I think both teams knew we were going to meet each other here,” Larson said. “It’s not every time that the two best teams in the Class meet in the state championship, but I think that was the case here. That was the best team we have played all season and we respect each other a lot and it shows during the game. We dedicated ourselves last year as soon as we lost, not just on the field, but off the field.”
BLOOMING PRAIRIE INDIVIDUAL STATS
RUSHING—Matthew Pryor 29-68-1; Alex Baldwin 3-21; Kaden Thomas 1-0; Bradley Simon 1-0
PASSING—Kaden Thomas 23-30-298-4-0
RECEIVING—Gabe Hagen 8-125-2; Alex Baldwin 5-35; Bradley Simon 3-41; Karson Vigeland 3-24-1; Mitchell Fiebiger 2-60; Matthew Pryor 2-13-1
DEFENSIVE LEADERS—Zach Webet 6 tackles; Jarrett Larson 5 tackles, 2 sacks; Dylan Nirk 3 tackles, 1 sack; Luke Larkoski 2 tackles, 1 sack