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Determined Spring Grove has willed its way to state football title game

After finishing 3-5 last season, the Spring Grove football team went to work like never before. Now, the Lions find themselves playing for a state championship.

Spring Grove Football
Spring Grove's Ethan Crouch (76) celebrates a tackle during a Nine-Man state semifinal football game against Fertile-Beltrami on Nov. 17, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Andrew Link / Post Bulletin file photo
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SPRING GROVE — Kody Moore knows what state championship football teams look like. He was the Spring Grove offensive coordinator in 2017 and ’18 when the Lions won back-to-back Prep Bowl titles.

Now in his third season as Spring Grove’s head coach, Moore is not publicly stating that his Lions will be raising the Prep Bowl trophy on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium after meeting sizzling Mountain Iron-Buhl. But he is public about one thing.

It’s that state championship teams look a lot like the group that’s been in front of him the last 13 months, tirelessly working.

And it really has been 13 months of grind. Steady trips to the Spring Grove weight room by this team started immediately after it was eliminated in the first round of the Nine-Man section playoffs by Southland last year, losing 19-12. That was one week after getting throttled 72-27 by Lanesboro, ending its regular season.

Spring Grove finished that season an unimpressive 3-5. But that did nothing to subdue the Lions’ enthusiasm for what could come next. In fact, it lit it on fire.

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“When we saw the disappointment on the faces of the (seniors) after last season ended, their final season of football finished, that lit a fire under us,” Spring Grove standout senior receiver Tysen Grinde said. “It reminded us that sports don’t last forever, and while we’re here, we have to make it count.”

The Lions have certainly done that. They enter Saturday’s game with Mountain Iron-Buhl a perfect 13-0, ranked third in the state and having outscored their opponents by an average of 43-15.

“I think we took a lot of inspiration from those 2017 and 2018 teams,” Grinde said. “We got inspired by them coming back and meeting with us this year, telling us what they did (to become great). This season has been satisfying. But as far as we’re concerned, we won’t be really satisfied until the job is finished.”

Spring Grove Football
Spring Grove's quarterback Elijah Solum (2) passes during a Nine-Man state semifinal football game against Fertile-Beltrami on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Andrew Link / Post Bulletin file photo

Yes, Grinde and company want nothing less than a state title. That mission began 12 months ago when they started hitting the weight room three times a week and kept it up all winter, spring and summer and augmented it with loads of speed work. There was also some inspirational reading that Moore handed his players, driving at the mental aspect of sports as much as the physical.

Building toughness and attitude was at the center of it.

Now look at them. The Lions have gone from 3-5 a year ago to being on the cusp of winning a state championship.

Moore isn’t surprised. He’s been a 13-month witness to how much his team wants this.

“Toward the end of October (2021), the guys were already banging on the door to get back in the weight room,” Moore said. “Any time a team is that hungry it can correlate to really good results on the field.”

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Offensively, Spring Grove has made things work with the kind diversity that is the envy of any coach. The Lions’ 27-6 win over No. 2-ranked Fertile-Beltrami in the state semifinals was a perfect example.

Spring Grove ran for 194 yards and passed for 116, with star junior quarterback Elijah Solum completing 12 of 18 passes and also running for 70 yards. Hunter Holland paced the running attack with 134 yards.

It’s been like this all season, with Lions’ opponents never knowing what to scheme against.

Next, it will be Mountain Iron-Buhl’s turn to try to slow the Lions.

While the Rangers attempt that, the Spring Grove defense faces just as difficult an assignment. Mountain Iron-Buhl quarterback Asher Zubich is a nightmare to stop. In beating No. 1-ranked Wheaton-Herman-Norcrosse 36-15 in the state semifinals, Zubich ran for 108 yards and was even more impressive with his arm, completing 12 of 17 passes for 141 yards and three touchdowns.

The Rangers have been putting up crazy numbers all season, outscoring their opponents by an average of 55-12. Seven times, they’ve scored at least 50 points.

“The No. 1 thing is their quarterback,” Moore said. “We need to try to force someone else to beat us and not let him get into open space. But I feel really good about our defense. We’ve played such good competition throughout the year that it gives you comfort and confidence, just knowing we’ve played a lot of really good opponents.”

Also breeding confidence is the togetherness of this bunch. That’s also given them a championship look, just like in 2017 and ‘18.

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“This is a really tightly-knit group,” Moore said. “It’s that brother’s bond. That, and the fact that we’ve had so many contributors in our success, offensively and defensively, has made this such a fun ride. Everyone has bought in.”

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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