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Fillmore Central's Chris Mensink reflects on historic football season, trip to 'The Bank'

In reaching the Class A state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium, this year's Fillmore Central football team reached heights no previous Falcons squad had. It ended with heartbreak as a miraculous comeback came up one point short, but it doesn't take away from what this group accomplished.

Fillmore Central vs. Minneota Football State Class A Semifinal
Fillmore Central players make their way onto the field before a State Class A semifinal football game against Minneota on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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HARMONY — This year's Fillmore Central football team delivered a ride many around the communities of Preston, Harmony and Fountain won’t soon forget.

The Falcons reached new heights, going where no previous Fillmore Central football team had gone before, by capturing the program’s first section title and first state tournament victory.

Never once was the moment too big for them.

Even as they fell behind Minneota 28-7 with just more than a minute remaining in the third quarter of a Class A state semifinal game, Fillmore Central never once flinched. Instead, the Falcons nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages.

They scored 20 unanswered and had two potential chances at the end of the fourth quarter to take the lead. Yet, the improbable come-from-behind effort just ran out of time.

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It was the type of effort which movies are made of and one Falcons head coach Chris Mensink will take with him forever. Mensink talked to the Post Bulletin this week for a Q-and-A about the Falcons' historic season.

Post Bulletin: Two weeks have now passed since that classic Class A state semifinal game between you and Minneota. Have you had time to reflect on the season?

C.M.: I have. What an experience it was for our kids, our community. Like I said right away, our kids have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about. They left everything they had on the field and gave everything they had to in that football game to win. We had an opportunity at the end and things just didn't work out. So yeah, it's one of the experiences that our kids reached almost every single goal they set for themselves.

The Falcons trailed by three touchdowns with more than a minute left in the third quarter, before nearly pulling off a comeback for the ages.

PB: That comeback was something else. Even I counted you guys out when you were trailing 28-7 towards the end of the third.

C.M.: That’s what sets these kids apart. That's why I told them, you guys, no matter what you choose to do in your life, the lessons that you showed people, the lessons that you taught people, the way you approached this and really every moment that you had. A lot of times when teams get down, they get frustrated and things like that. You couldn't sense that at all. This team was just like, ‘No, OK, here's what we have to do. Let's keep battling.’ We took a timeout and I said, ‘Guys, just take a minute here. I want you to look up in the stands. Look at all of those people here for you guys. How many of those guys wanted this for themselves? They're here to support you. Give it everything you have so far, we've said that all year long, right? You just concentrate on the moment in front of you and do the best you can with what you have. The chips are going to fall into place, the scoreboard is going to take care of itself. And let's just do the best execution we can at this moment.’ They embraced that and embody that from top to bottom. … So many life lessons can be taken from that and that's what sports is all about at the high school level, in my opinion. You're teaching kids how to handle different life circumstances through sport and it's a great outlet for kids.”

PB: So many teams would have given up.

C.M.: These kids are just — like I've said a million times so far — I’m so proud of their response. We said attitude and effort, we can control that circumstance. Life is all about circumstances that you are presented with and how do you respond to them. That’s what we preach to our kids. It's your responses where you have the power and these kids definitely demonstrated that and emulated that all year long. It was so cool and powerful to see.

Fillmore Central vs. Minneota Football State Class A Semifinal
Fillmore Central fans cheer on their team during a State Class A semifinal football game against Minneota on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

PB: How often do you work on the hook and lateral? You guys ran it to perfection to convert (fourth-and-25).

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C.M.: We have a special session in our practice a couple times a week where we work on special plays like that. It’s not an easy play to execute, the timing of it and everything, but our playbook was so extensive because they could handle it. We kept feeding them more and more and they wanted more and more. It was one of many hook and laterals. We probably had six different hook and laterals in the playbook.

PB: Were you guys able to take a moment together after the game? How did the community embrace the team’s return home?

C.M.: We took the team out to eat at a local establishment up in the cities so we didn't get back right away. We kind of took our time but even when we did arrive, we still had the fire trucks and things escort us back into town and people in the streets, on the highways honking their horns and waving, just very appreciative of the job that these kids did and recognizing their effort and in our community. We live in such an amazing spot. People that are so supportive. There are still signs up around town. I don’t think they are going to be taken down for a while. These towns will remember that for a long, long time.

Fillmore Central vs. Minneota Football State Class A Semifinal
Fillmore Central fans cheer on their team during a State Class A semifinal football game against Minneota on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

PB: This group, it just felt like it embodied the community and the community embodied it, if that makes sense?

C.M.: The response has been amazing. It’s humbling to see the pride people took in this team, alumni, people that are 60, 70 years old, reaching out, leaving voice messages and sending emails. I'm getting letters in the mail about just how well these kids represented our town, our communities. There was just a lot of pride in what these kids accomplished. It’s been very, very humbling.

PB: What's the one characteristic you will take from this season?

C.M.: Selflessness. Just the selflessness of the coaches, of the athletes, that's what really sets this team apart and makes it so special. Everybody just loves to watch everybody else be successful. Nobody cares who's scoring a touchdown. They take as much pride in making the block and celebrating somebody else's success as they do their own.

Alex VandenHouten has been a sports reporter at the Post Bulletin since Sept. 2021. He loves to go hiking, biking, snowshoeing and just simply being outdoors with his wife Olivia. Readers can reach Alex at avandenhouten@postbulletin.com.
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