It was not the result Champlin Park football wanted in a 35-20 loss to Wayzata in the Class 6A Prep Bowl, but the Rebels became just the third team in school history to finish as state runner-up.
Still, the frustration of coming so close to a title definitely showed on the field after the game. Helmets were slammed in the turf. Players stared up at the scoreboard in disbelief and some looked around U.S. Bank Stadium silent.
It is tough to see past the end result and look at the season as a whole, especially when the Trojans were celebrating in the background. But in the end, Champlin Park came together as a family once more – hugging and consoling each other and huddling in the east end zone for one more inspiring speech by coach Nick Keenan.
Overall, the Rebels exceeded expectations by making the Prep Bowl because Champlin Park wasn’t ranked in the preseason top-10 and didn’t crack the top five until late in the season.
From a game-winning field goal by senior Noah Vogelpohl to open the season to a tough road win at Rosemount to another close win against Totino-Grace, the Rebels (10-2 overall) kept persevering on the way to a co-Metro North title and a section championship.
They followed that by a win over 2018 champion Lakeville North in the state semifinals.
“I am proud of my teammates,” senior quarterback Jaice Miller said. “I don’t know if, coming into the season, anyone expected us to have been here. It just sucks to come this far and just fall short of our ultimate goal.”
There were plenty of seniors who were a part of the 2019 team that will go down as one of the best in program history.
On offense, Miller was joined by wide receivers Brock Johnson, Dom Witt, Salor Zeah, Duannah Kamara, Kemar Graham, Joonsang Vue and Tommy Oyaro; quarterback Ethan Romo; running back Rashard Scott; offensive linemen Joe Manthey, Tyler Guckeen, Mood Jihad, Tyrone Robinson and Travis Long and kicker Noah Vogelpohl.
The seniors on defense were defensive linemen Sam Knutson, Joe Sherman, Cole Fredrickson, Javarius Jackson and Annikan Yang; linebackers Noah Link, Gabe Diaz and Obi Evuleocha, and defensive backs Will Dampier, Devon Moore, Holly Johnson, Xavier Thomas, Joe Tullberg, Ebenezer Shupare and Kevin Blaisdell.
And the returning players will look to build off their legacy in 2020.
Wayzata 35, Champlin Park 20
Keenan said he was proud of how the Rebels battled, but there were some missed opportunities in the Prep Bowl.
The defense couldn’t stop Trojans senior running back Christian Vasser, who tied the state championship record with five rushing touchdowns.
Vasser finished with 49 carries for 285 yards. Wayzata had 289 total yards as a team.
Champlin Park did have one interception, a leaping grab by junior defensive back Cam Hammonds, but the defense could not do much else against the Trojans.
And it definitely hurt in the second half.
The Rebels had a 17-14 lead at halftime, but the third quarter was all Wayzata. Vasser had two touchdowns in the quarter, and he added another on a six-minute, 10-play drive where he rushed for another 64 yards.
“We had been averaging close to three turnovers for us on defense, and we only had the one,” Keenan said. “We kind of lived and died on getting those turnovers, but we knew they were a good team.
“I think when we go back and look at the film, I think we missed out on some opportunities.”
Some of those missed opportunities were from Vasser breaking several tackles to gain three or four extra yards, even gaining 10 or more yards on a few of those broken tackles.
But the others were on offense.
Champlin Park had 27 total yards in the third quarter, and that included a missed screen pass and a pass from Miller to junior wide receiver Evan Hammonds that just hit off his fingertips that would have been good enough for a first down.
Miller also just missed Witt on a deep pass down the left sideline that could have been a touchdown, or at the very least a big chunk play that would have set the Rebels up inside the Wayzata 20-yard line.
Vogelpohl did knock in a 27-yard field goal to cut the Trojans’ lead to 28-20 with 8:35 to go, but the offense had the ball on the 11-yard line and had a 2-yard run, a fumbled snap and a 2-yard pass before settling for three points.
“I think we dropped a few passes,” Keenan said. “That would have made the game a lot different.”
The first half was much different.
The Rebels took a 3-0 lead early with a 40-yard field goal by Vogelpohl, and they responded twice to Wayzata touchdowns in the second quarter to take a lead into halftime.
On Champlin Park’s first score, Miller started the drive with a 23-yard screen pass to junior running back Shawn Shipman (15 carries, 56 yards) and kept it alive on an 11-yard slant pass to Johnson for a first down on a third-and-10.
Shipman finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Wayzata retook the lead 14-10, but the Rebels came right back with a eight-play, 70-yard drive.
Miller hit sophomore running back Darius Givance for a 10-yard screen pass to start it off, and Miller later had 24- and 18-yard runs.
Shipman capped it off with a 7-yard score.
Miller finished with 94 yards on 13 carries and was 8-for-20 for 80 yards. Much of his damage was on quarterback draws up the middle.
“I think that with our spread offense, we usually fill that bubble,” Miller said. “They spread guys to take that away, so the middle was open.”
Defensively, Link finished with 14 total tackles, including one for a lass and a sack. Evuleocha added 12 tackles, and Moore and Yang chipped in nine and seven tackles.