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Barnesville, turnovers end Chatfield's dream of back-to-back state football titles

No. 1-ranked Chatfield turned the ball over five times and lost 35-20 to Barnesville in the Class AA Prep Bowl.

Chatfield, Barnesville State Football Championship
Chatfield’s Luke Carrier (6) tries to run the ball in for a 2-point conversion during the state Class AA football championship game against Barnesville on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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MINNEAPOLIS — That was not the way that Chatfield superstar quarterback/runner Sam Backer wanted to end his extraordinary high school football career.

The 190-pound senior and fourth-year starter wanted to play a leading role in bringing his team its second straight Class AA state championship.

Instead, he and his No. 1-ranked Gophers endured a painful and turnover-plagued 35-20 loss in the Prep Bowl to No. 3 Barnesville on Friday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Barnesville defeated Chatfield 35-20 in the State Class AA Football Championship game on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

It marked Chatfield’s first loss in 26 games as the Gophers were riding the second longest winning streak in the state. It also marked the first state football title ever for Barnesville. The Trojans ended their season a perfect 13-0, while Chatfield finished 12-1.

“Those were the two best teams meeting in the final, that is for sure,” Chatfield coach Jeff Johnson said. “You have to give Barnesville a lot of credit. They earned it tonight. They had some kids make some big plays for them. But those turnovers were unfamiliar for us and they killed us. We just had too many of them, and we really hadn’t done that all year.”

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Backer is the second most prolific rusher ever in Minnesota with his 7,379 career yards. He was prolific again Friday, finishing with 182 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

But it was not all of those yards that he says he will remember most. At least not when it comes to this championship game. Instead, his recollection will be of the four interceptions he threw and the fumble he lost against a Barnesville team that was the most ballhawking club he’d run into all season.

Backer, accustomed to throwing occasional long passes and having his guys end up with them, was met with the opposite result against Barnesville.

Each of Barnesville’s four interceptions — two by 6-foot-4 safety Owen Riddle — came on long, jump ball-variety throws. The Trojans were waiting for them with double coverage and the kind of athletes to go get them.

That made all the difference.

“Give (Barnesville) credit for what they did, but I also put this on myself,” Backer said. “We had a game plan and we thought those long pass plays would work. Obviously, they didn’t. Barnesville has some good athletes in their secondary, especially (Riddle). They made some really big plays when they needed them.”

Barnesville, coached by Bryan Strand, son of former Southland High School iconic coach Dick Strand, has been a regular participant in the state football tournament the last bunch of years. That included last season, when it met Chatfield in the semifinals, built a two-score lead and lost anyway.

That loss had been gnawing at Barnesville ever since.

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“I thought we should have won the state tournament the last four years,” said Trojans star lineman Jonathan Robideau, a fifth-year starter. “All year we’ve been saying, ‘Let’s get back at Chatfield.’ They took the game from us last year. So we said, ‘Let’s take it back.’ ”

They did it with all of that ball-hawking defense especially, led by Riddle.

“We’ve told him 100-plus times, not to let anyone get behind you,” Strand said. “And today, he played the ball so well.”

Barnesville scored first, then fell behind 8-7 when Backer completed a 36-yard touchdown pass to an open Kailan Schott down the right sideline. Chatfield followed that by making good on a two-point conversion.

One possession later, though, came Chatfield’s second turnover of the game.

And this time, Barnesville made the Gophers pay, which would become a trend. It traveled 34 yards for an eventual touchdown.

Then came a Backer interception on a long throw with Barnesville following it up with another score, this one a 13-yard TD toss from Zach Bredman to tight end Tate Inniger, part of a four-touchdown day for him.

Chatfield scored again before halftime, Backer sprinting in from 25 yards out. But the Gophers never would again reclaim the lead.

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Chatfield lost the game. Still, when it was over, the Gophers players and coaches were not at a loss.

They’d done way too many great things the last two years for that. They’d left a lasting legacy, and they knew it.

“I think we helped build a culture here,” Chatfield senior lineman Isaac Stevens said. “And it’s been awesome to see how that has affected our entire community.”

As for Backer, who will take his considerable football act to Minnesota State University, Mankato next year, he was keeping his head held high.

“We’ll always wish that we’d had a win in this last game, but I’m not going to pout about it for the rest of my life,” he said. “I am happy with what we did. That was a great team that I played with. And I’m thankful to the 20 linemen and tight ends and receivers who’ve helped me here. Those are great teammates and they know how much I think of them.”

Game summary: https://www.mshsl.org/sites/default/files/2022-12/2022%20FB%20Champ%20AA%20Barnesville%20Chatfield.pdf

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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