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Maple Grove football team moves past the 'one-minute miracle'

By David La Vaque, Star Tribune, 11/15/17, 10:48PM CST


After Maple Grove’s stunning rally, the Crimson now must solve Eden Prairie in the Class 6A state semifinals.

Maple Grove High School kicker Andy Peterson, quarterback Curtis Haugen, and wide recever Joe Raymon (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune)

England. Dramatic details from a Minnesota high school football game reached England.

The Daily Mail Online deemed Maple Grove’s stunning comeback victory over St. Michael-Albertville last Thursday in the Class 6A quarterfinals worth a recap, giving the game international recognition.

The facts read like fiction. Maple Grove erupted for three touchdowns in the final 59 seconds. The Crimson recovered two onside kicks during the wild sequence, capped with a touchdown run with four seconds left in a 29-27 victory for the ages.

“In my lifetime, I’ve never experienced anything like that game,” Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi said. “It was an amazing deal and we’re happy to be alive.”

The improbable victory earned the Crimson a semifinal showdown with Eden Prairie in the Class 6A semifinals starting at 7 p.m. Thursday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

An upset of the top-ranked and undefeated Eagles would be an accomplishment of similar magnitude for prep football’s one-minute-miracle workers. The Crimson are 0-6 against Eden Prairie in Lombardi’s tenure, including two playoff losses.

But familiarity breeds confidence.

“The good part is that we’ve played them so much that the fear is gone,” said Lombardi, whose team lost 28-7 to Eden Prairie earlier this season. “Obviously, Eden Prairie is great and they do things the right way and they are what we want to become. But at least we’re used to seeing them. So I don’t think our kids are overwhelmed. They just have to play well.”

Maple Grove’s goal, then, is to somehow extrapolate its furious final minute, when it overcame a 17-point deficit against the Knights, into a full, 48-minute effort.

“As Lombo told us, ‘After last week, you guys should really know that anything is possible,’ ” said Andy Peterson, one of several stars of the comeback sequence.

Prepspotlight.tv carried the livestream and counted 10,000 unique visitors by 10 p.m. Thursday. Typical regular-season games draw 250 to 1,000 unique visitors. Headlines on Yahoo Sports, Deadspin and other outlets, coupled with the posting of a highlights package, helped boost viewership to 17,000 by 4 p.m. Friday.

And what a finish they witnessed. A 30-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Curtis Haugen to receiver Joe Raymon and the Crimson narrowed the deficit to 27-16 with 59 seconds left.

Maple Grove turned to Peterson for an onside kick attempt. He succeeded and Justin Stolp recovered the ball. On the next play, Haugen rolled left and fired to Raymon, who raced down the sideline for a 49-yard touchdown. Maple Grove had cut the deficit to 27-22 with 46 seconds left.

Peterson, of course, tried a second onside kick.

“I was oddly calm,” said Peterson, nicknamed “Kicker 2.0” by Lombardi. “I was just thinking in my head, ‘Don’t mess this up. Time to be a hero.’ ”

Two St. Michael-Albertville players moved toward the ball and got clobbered by onrushing Maple Grove players before the ball traveled 10 yards. Stolp recovered the ball again. Maple Grove was not whistled for a penalty.

“That one, I knew rulewise, was a fringer” or close call, Lombardi said.

Had it occurred in the semifinals or Prep Bowl, the play would have been subject to an instant replay review. This year marks its debut for those rounds. Bob Madison, league associate director who oversees football, said three situations are subject to review: possession changes, plays within the final two minutes of a competitive game and scoring plays.

“I think we would have reviewed their second onside kick,” said Madison, who was at the game but said he left when St. Michael-Albertville went ahead 27-10.

But instant replay isn’t used in the quarterfinals, held at neutral sites. First down, Maple Grove.

A few plays later Raymon made a leaping, one-handed grab at the 1-yard line — “one of the best catches I’ve ever seen in person,” Haugen said. After the Crimson lost a yard on first down, Evan Hull took a handoff as St. Michael-Albertville’s defense crashed hard to the right side of the offense. Hull, however, went left and reached the end zone untouched.

Players celebrated as Lombardi braced for bad news. Maple Grove only had six players on the line of scrimmage, making its pre-snap formation illegal.

Referees missed the infraction. Madison said review of scoring plays does not include pre-snap formations.

Touchdown, Maple Grove.

“We said on the bus ride home that we got away with one,” Lombardi said, “Even though those two things happened, our kids had to do a lot to get to that point. I’m still proud of their resilience.”

St. Michael-Albertville coach Jared Essler said of the loss, “It’s hard to swallow. It’s hard to watch.

“We told the kids, ‘There’s going to be a lot of blame to go around. People are going to blame the officials, people are going to blame our defense for not getting off the field. We just needed to make one more play,’ ” Essler said. “That’s the life lesson.”

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