Maple Grove Football Answers Lombardi's Question: "What's Going to Make You Special?"
Nov 13, 2017 05:35AM ● Published by Doug Erlien
When the 2017 season began for the Maple Grove Crimson Football team, Head Coach Matt Lombardi asked his team a question.
“What’s going to make you special?"
"I challenged them and I think that’s something as coaches that’s not our job to give them. It’s theirs to create and find out themselves," Lombardi told Maple Grove Voice.
The Crimson program had been to the state tournament each of the past four seasons. Lombardi had turned the program from teams of “could be” to teams of “always are”. Through those four seasons, some of the best names in high school football played for the program year in and year out. The season began without a big name, but as history would note, it didn’t end that way.
“I think this is going to be a team that is the sum of its parts,” Lombardi said at the beginning of the season. “In previous years, we’ve had names that people recognize and I think there’s going to be a lot of people going to games and having to look at their program wondering who everyone is. I think that’s kind of fun and hopefully as Maple Grove Crimson we’ll be a good team.”
The Regular Season
No team in high school football played a more difficult schedule than the Crimson. With games against Prior Lake, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Lakeville North and Edina as well as bookend games against Wayzata and Osseo to begin and end the season.
The Crimson defense was the story in their 28-7 win over Osseo. Joe Raymon carried the ball nine times for 19-yards, but scored twice to pace the offense. It was junior Even Hull who ran for 129-yards on 19 carries and quarterback Curtis Haugen in his first start completed 7-of-10 passes for 139-yards and a touchdown.
The defense continued to shine against a tough Prior Lake team in their 9-6 win holding the Lakers to a late fourth quarter touchdown while recording a safety in the first quarter. Offensively, it was Hull who popped out once again, rushing for 139-yards on 30 carries in the win.
A slow start against Minnetonka saw the Skippers jump out to a 20-0 first half lead before the Crimson answered late in the second quarter. Maple Grove carried the momentum to the third quarter taking a 21-20 lead on Hull and Raymon touchdowns, but the Skippers would answer and hang on to win 28-21.
A trip to Burnsville to face the Blaze resulted in a 44-16 Crimson blowout win. Hull ran for a then career high 239-yards and four touchdowns in the win. Defensively, Ben Bristol picked up an interception and Justin Stolp forced a fumble as the Crimson pushed their record to 3-1 at the halfway point of the season.
The Crimson hosted top ranked Eden Prairie and the Eagles took advantage of Maple Grove penalties and turnovers in their 28-7 win. Maple Grove played the top rated team tough, only trailing 7-0 at halftime, but couldn’t capitalize on their offensive opportunities. Hull rushed for 160-yards on 27 carries, continuing his streak of 100 plus yard rushing games.
Offensively, the Crimson put it all together in their 14-6 win over Lakeville North. Haugen passed for 157-yards and a touchdown and Hull rushed 35 times for 130-yards. The defense held a strong Panther team to just seven points.
Maple Grove couldn’t hold a 17-7 halftime lead against Edina and the Hornets scored 21 second half points and shutout the Crimson, winning 28-17. Haugen threw for 190 yards, but had two interceptions. Hull continued his streak of 100 plus yards with 138-yards on 23 carries.
Lombardi returned to where it all began for him as the Crimson closed out the regular season at Wayzata. After trailing 3-0 after the first quarter, Maple Grove came alive offensively scoring 28 straight points in their 35-10 win over the Trojans.
“I’m happy with a win,” Lombardi said. “Anytime you play the schedule we did this year, I’m proud of our kids, they’ve really faced the top five teams in the state.”
The Crimson finished with a 5-3 record and were seeded third and would face a familiar opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
After rushing for 1,270-yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season, Hull turned his game up a notch. The junior carried 32 times for 248-yards and four touchdowns in a rematch against Wayzata that saw the Crimson come away with a 33-10 victory.
A five o’clock snow couldn’t slow Hull or the Crimson down in the their second round game against Roseville (pictured above). Hull took the first play from scrimmage 80-yards for a touchdown and ran for nearly 397-yards and scored another three touchdowns in their 41-28 win over the Raiders. Hull’s day gave him 645-yards rushing in two playoff games. The win officially gave the Crimson another state tournament appearance.
The story of the state quarterfinal game against St. Michael-Albertville has been talked about in every newscast and website since the Crimson made history in scoring 19 points in the final 57 seconds and defeated the Knights 29-27.
“I’ve been a part of many games,” Lombardi said. “This is unlike any I’ve ever seen.”
So, as the Crimson ready themselves for their rematch against Eden Prairie, Lombardi’s squad has answered his original question.
“What’s going to make you special?”
A team that in the beginning of the season, fans of the team needed their rosters to figure out who was making plays, has turned into a team that defensively led by Jake Hanson, Adam Skogman, Justin Stolp, and Ben Paschke plays the run tough and keeps their team in games. Offensively, Hull has emerged as the go-to player carrying 107 times for 835-yards and 10 touchdowns in three playoff games.
Maple Grove will play at U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time in school history against Eden Prairie on Thursday, November 16 at 7:00 P.M.