High School Football Focus: Spring Grove getting what it worked for
Spring Grove had a difficult season last year, finishing below .500 and losing in the first round of the playoffs. The Lions have done an about face this year.
SPRING GROVE — It was one year ago that the Spring Grove football team finished 3-5, was outscored 72-27 by Lanesboro and bowed out in the first round of the Section One, 9-Man playoffs.
But now look at the Lions. They’re 5-0, ranked sixth in the state and outscoring their opponents by an average of 49-19.
Spring Grove coach Kody Moore knows the root of the metamorphosis. It was hard work in the weight room and overall conditioning by his guys. Lots and lots of both.
These Lions knew what they wanted, then they went out and got it.
“These guys were just really hungry,” Moore said. “Once last season ended, so many of them wanted to get right back in the weight room. I even told them they might want to hold off initially, that they should let themselves recover from the season. But they kept getting into the weight room. We had it open at 5:45 in the mornings during school and a good amount of guys were there three days a week. So far, it’s really paid off.”
The position groups that have benefited most from that added muscle are the Spring Grove offensive and defensive lines. And it’s there, most agree, where games are won.
On offense, the Lions’ vastly improved blocking has resulted in the kind of night that Spring Grove is coming off of, with standout 6-foot-1, 190-pound quarterback Elijah Solum finding enough room and time to pass for 241 yards and rush for 103, and Hunter Holland also rushing for 162 yards.
“The biggest change is our blocking,” Moore said. “The previous two years, it seemed like we had stalemates (along the line of scrimmage). But not now. The weight room has really benefited us, especially in the trenches.”
For Spring Grove, the occupiers of those trenches are Logan Brumm, Ty Cleven, Brandon Jahnke and Ethan Crouch, with Emmett Engelderinger inserted along the defensive line where the sophomore has wreaked havoc.
“Emmett has been a monster in there,” Moore said. “He’s really tenacious.”
And then there is Spring Grove’s embarrassment of riches at wide receiver, led by long and athletic Tysen Grinde (6-foot-3) and Jaxon Strinmoen (6-4). Both can easily dunk a basketball and have taken full advantage of all of that catch radius and explosiveness on the football field. Caleb Griffin has been one more vital piece at slot receiver, giving the Lions three serious passing-catching threats.
Week 5’s Top Performers
Adam Glynn, Byron
Glynn’s Friday night was much more bitter than sweet. The bitter was that the junior running back broke his collarbone and is likely done for the season. He’d been having an incredibly strong year. The sweet was the way he went out, with 331 yards rushing and four touchdowns in a 35-28 win over Mankato East.
Sam Backer, Chatfield
In a season that has already been loaded with sparkling performances by the 190-pound senior running back, Thursday’s act against La Crescent-Hokah was his best so far. Backer sprinted and crashed for 351 yards and four touchdowns on just 17 carries in a 51-7 blitzing of La Crescent-Hokah.
Carter Holcomb, Mayo
In what has been a series of highlight performances by the junior receiver who combines speed, strength, explosive jumping and sure hands, Holcomb had 216 yards receiving — including a 79-yard touchdown catch — in a narrow loss to the state’s top Class AAAAA team, Mankato West.
Aidan Jahns, Lourdes
It was one play that mostly lifted the Lourdes’ senior to this top-five performers list, though he had his fingerprints all over his team’s upset win over No. 1-ranked Cannon Falls. But it was what he did with 2 seconds left in regulation that’s going to be remembered most, Jahns nailing a 20-yard field goal for the deciding points in Lourdes’ dramatic 24-22 come-from-behind win.
Elijah Solum, Spring Grove
The Lions’ 6-1, 190-pound junior quarterback is proving he can beat teams every which way. On Friday, that included him going 17-for-24 passing for 251 yards and three touchdowns, and rushing 16 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns. All of it came in a 33-14 win over Southland.
Week 5 Power Rankings
(Editor's note: These rankings are considered "pound-for-pound" rankings, similar to many rankings systems in boxing and mixed martial arts. They represent the best teams in southeastern Minnesota, relative to the class they play in.)
1. Chatfield, 5-0
The Gophers are outscoring their opponents by an average of 51-9. And there is even momentum within the momentum. The defending state champions have scored 69, 60 and 51 points in their last three games. Oh, and Sam Backer and the offensive line that does incredible blocking for him is unstoppable. Backer ran for 351 yards on Thursday, Sept. 29 against a sturdy La Crescent-Hokah team. But a challenge awaits. On Friday comes THE matchup on the year, with unbeaten and biggest rival Caledonia traveling to take on the Gophers. Chatfield is ranked No. 1 in the state, Caledonia No. 3. That’s must-see stuff.
2. Stewartville, 5-0
Here’s another team that is obliterating the competition. In fact, its numbers are even better than Chatfield’s. The Tigers are outscoring their opponents by an average of 56-5. They put up 70 points on Friday, Sept. 30 against Red Wing. In their first four games, Stewartville held teams to 3, 7, 0 and 0 points. On Friday, things are going to get a lot more interesting for Stewartville. That’s when it plays at 4-1 Kasson-Mantorville, winner of its last four games. It will be the first time this year that the Tigers will face a team with a winning record.
3. Mayo, 4-1
The Spartans slip one spot in this week’s power rankings. But Mayo is hardly in a head-hanging mood. It's coming off a 28-24 loss to the No. 1 ranked team in the state, Mankato West. It was the 24th straight win for the Scarlets, the state’s defending champions. No. 7-ranked Mayo actually led a good portion of the game and proved it can play with anyone. Mayo has cohesiveness and some excellent talent. That includes one of the best kickers around, Ethan Post. The sophomore nailed a 39-yard field goal against West.
4. Caledonia, 5-0
If Friday, Oct. 7 isn’t literally circled on Warriors players’ and coaches’ calendars, it has been circled in their minds since Sept. 17, 2022. That was when Caledonia — which had entered the season on a 71-game winning streak — was whipped by biggest rival Chatfield 30-0. After last year’s aberration 4-5 season, Caledonia has done nothing but win this year. The No. 3-ranked Warriors are coming off their most impressive win yet, 35-20 over an excellent Goodhue team.
5. Fillmore Central, 5-0
The only team that has come within two touchdowns of Fillmore Central has been Faribault Bethlehem Academy (28-14), and that is a strong Cardinals team. Quarterback Dillon O’Connor is having himself a season. He threw four touchdown passes against solid Randolph on Friday, Sept. 30. This is one of Fillmore Central’s best passing teams ever. And it knows how to play defense, allowing just eight points per game.
6. Spring Grove, 5-0
The Lions put up points and they’ve got the athletes to do it. Spring Grove averages nearly 50 points per game. Its most dangerous player has been quarterback Elijah Solum. In the Lions’ last game, a 33-14 win over Southland, the 190-pound junior passed for 241 yards and ran for 103. Tyson Grinde gives Spring Grove a big-play receiver and Hunter Holland is a dangerous running back. It’s a lethal mix.
7. Plainview-Elgin-Millville, 4-1
The Bulldogs haven’t lost since Game 2, when No. 1 ranked Cannon Falls beat them 24-18. Kaiden Peters has been P-E-M’s big-play guy and he had four touchdowns on Friday, Sept. 30 against Lake City. The Bulldogs always ride their defense which tackles as well as any team around. P-E-M has a serious test waiting for them on Friday, hosting recently hot Lourdes.
8. Lourdes, 4-1
The Eagles are coming off a pair of impressive wins, over resurgent La Crescent-Hokah and then Cannon Falls. Beating the Bombers — the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAA — really drew attention. It was a game that Lourdes deserved, outplaying Cannon Falls much of the night. Next up is another tough one for the Eagles, taking on No. 8-ranked Plainview-Elgin-Millville on Friday.
9. Cannon Falls, 4-1
Cannon Falls was stunned on Friday, Sept. 30, losing 24-22 to Lourdes in the final 2 seconds. Prior to that the Bombers had had just one close game, with No. 8-ranked Plainview-Elgin-Millville. The run-first, second, third and fourth Bombers continue to do what they do. Against Lourdes, they had 289 yards rushing, 1 yard passing. To look much further ahead than any coach prefers, Cannon Falls has a tough matchup to finish its regular season, at No. 3-ranked Caledonia on Oct. 19.
10. Lanesboro, 5-0
After a lackluster win against winless Houston on Sept. 23, the No. 3-ranked Burros were in fine form on Friday, Sept. 30 in a 49-8 win over Kingsland. It’s also fun to look ahead to what the Burros have to close their season, Oc. 19. That’s when they travel to take on fellow unbeaten and juggernaut Spring Grove.