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High school football: Lakeville South edges Maple Grove to win Class 6A title

By Jace Frederick, Pioneer Press, 11/27/21, 9:15AM CST


Maple Grove was threatening to potentially win the state title in the final minute of the Class 6A state championship game.

Trailing 13-7, the Crimson drove down to Lakeville South’s 35-yard-line with 50 seconds to play. Maple Grove faced a fourth-and-10 with the season on the line.


Lakeville South forced Maple Grove into another fourth down earlier in the drive, but the Crimson converted, just barely. Now was the time for the Cougars to finally close the door.

“We’re like ‘We can’t let this slip through our fingers again,'” Cougars linebacker Zack Juckel said. “One last play for the state championship.”

Maple Grove quarterback Jacob Kilzer didn’t have any open receivers as he dropped back, but he did have a whole lot of green grass in front of him. He took off toward the sticks, and Juckel, who was positioned on the other side of the field, had one thought cross his mind: “Dear God, one of our guys get there.”

Mikai Stewart and Joey Ulmen answered Juckel’s prayers, tripping Kilzer up about a half yard short of the yard to gain, sealing the Cougars’ first state title since Lakeville split into two high schools in 2005.

The Lakeville South sideline erupted, but Juckel stood in silence.

“”I was just looking around like, ‘Did we just win the game?’ ” Juckel recalled.

You just won the game.

After two years and 21 consecutive victories, Lakeville South won the state title game it had been craving for so long. And it was worth the wait.

Lakeville South was the defending “Associated Press state champion,” determined by a panel of media voters after the season was cut short by COVID-19. The Cougars celebrated their accomplishment with a sign hanging above their stadium. Quarterback Camden Dean wore his state title ring after Friday’s game, and Cougars coach Ben Burk wore a shirt commemorating the accomplishment.

And now they have another title — one they got to decide on the field.

“Last year, it felt amazing, but this is triple it,” Dean said. “I’ve never been so happy. This is going to last for a long time.”

Lakeville South was the long-assumed favorite to win this crown and defend its title. But Maple Grove had impressed to the point where after its drubbing of Eden Prairie in the semifinals, the thought of the Crimson pulling the upset emerged.

And they nearly did it.

“Maple Grove gave us a dogfight,” Juckel said, “and they gave us the best game we’ve seen all year.”

It was a heavyweight bout that went the distance.

Points were at a premium all night Friday. Both teams feature high-powered offenses, but their defenses are equally good. The first half was all about missed opportunities.

Maple Grove had a 15-play drive that ended in a botched snap on a field-goal attempt. Then Lakeville South turned the ball over on downs on the Crimson’s 2-yard line. Maple Grove had a 53-yard field goal attempt blocked at the end of the half, which ended scoreless.

Maple Grove (11-2) finally broke through in the third on a 24-yard pass from Kilzer to Tanner Albeck. Lakeville South then answered with Dean’s first touchdown of the night, a 28-yarder in which the Cougars (13-0) finally fooled the Crimson with their power-T running scheme.

Dean finished with 109 rushing yards on eight carries on a night when Maple Grove was determined to take away Cougars star running back Carson Hansen.

“That’s the thing in our offense, is we have four guys who can carry the ball, and they have eight gaps they’ve got to defend,” Burk said. “Eventually, if you’re the more physical team, you’re consistent and you don’t make mistakes, you’ll pop a few. … We were able to kind of get after them play after play after play and were successful with the quarterback.”

They needed to pop one more play late. With the game tied with six minutes to play, Dean and Co. were set to take the field for a season-defining drive with one goal in mind.

“We told the guys, we were sitting on the sidelines watching film going into that last drive, ‘We’re going to score the game-winning drive here. In six minutes, we’ve got a state championship,'” Dean said. “We all played our butts off tonight, and we wanted it. It all paid off when it came down to that last drive.”

That last play. From their own 48-yard-line, Dean took the snap, faked a handoff and started to take off to his right. Then he felt an explosion — it was Cougars lineman Wyatt Ronn delivering the hit of a lifetime on the edge to free up Dean to get to the second level.

“I started like laughing mid-play. He’s done it before,” Dean said. “I saw it with the corner of my eye, and I was like ‘Wow.’ ”

Then Dean wowed, making a few Maple Grove players miss to get into the end zone on a 52-yard scamper. The Crimson’s defense was so good all night against Lakeville South’s potent rushing attack, but the Cougars finally found a crease when it mattered most.

“We went into this game expecting to win. It was two really good teams going at it,” said Crimson coach Matt Lombardi, who called this Maple Grove team the best one in school history. “I cant be prouder of my kids. I said they should have zero regrets. They put every ounce of who they were on that field.

“Came up a yard short.”

It was fitting it was Lakeville South’s defense who made the game-ending play. That unit has been so good all season, but always gets overshadowed by the high-powered offense.

Not Friday, not on the biggest stage.

“When the defense knows that we’re going to be a bigger factor, I think everyone in their minds is like, ‘We’ve got to step it up,'” Juckel said. “Because we’ve been preaching as a defense all year, ‘Defense wins championships.’ And I know some of the offensive guys wouldn’t agree with that.”

There isn’t much to argue anymore. Dean, the signal caller, reached over to grab a microphone.

“Defense,” he said, “definitely won a championship tonight.”