'They’ve wanted this game': Undefeated Barnesville enters Prep Bowl seeking revenge, first state title
The Trojans will square off against the Chatfield Gophers, the team that knocked them out of last year's postseason, Friday for the AA state championship in a battle between two unbeaten teams.
BARNESVILLE — Friday afternoon, the Barnesville Trojans have the opportunity to do two things in the Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis: earn revenge from last year’s Class AA state semifinal loss to Chatfield; and win the first football state championship in school history.
With the extra week between the semifinals and finals this year, the 12-0 Trojans are primed to hit the field and take on those tasks.
“We’re ready for our game,” said head coach Bryan Strand. “We’ve practiced enough now and it’s getting late. We want the game.”
Practices have been going well for the Trojans in the week and a half since their 41-12 semifinal win over Jackson County Central, Strand said. While the practices have been good and the team is healthy, it has been a challenge lining up places to practice.
From their own gym to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks — and places in between — the Trojans have been practicing twice a day, as they have for all of their big games this year.
“It’s just trying to find practice facilities. That’s the hard part,” said Strand. “We’ve gone from UND for two days, we went to Moorhead for a day outside on their turf field and we’ve practiced in the mornings in our gym because basketball and wrestling are going on so we’re limited on space. Then (Thursday) we’re going to St. John’s to practice. That’s the hardest thing about playing a football game in December.”
Despite the shifting scenery for practices, the team’s overall mood has not been overly affected, Strand said.
Last year, Barnseville’s title chase came to an end in the semifinals in a 22-18 loss to eventual state champion Chatfield, with the difference being a pair of missed 2-point conversions.
“We played them really tough last year and we had some things go wrong late in the second half,” Strand said. “We had a two-touchdown lead and we didn’t convert on our 2-point conversions. That hurt us. Touchdown-wise, it was three to three. We just didn’t convert when it mattered. We made some mistakes that, hopefully, we fixed. We frustrated them, which we hope to do again.”
The undefeated Trojans played this season like a team motivated to make amends. They outscored their opponents 540-48 in 12 games. Friday marks the fourth time the Trojans will have played in a state final, with previous appearances in 1978, 2010 and 2018.
"Our kids are going to have to play well. But, they’ve wanted this game," Strand said. "This is the game they wanted and they’ve got it.”
And they'll enter it well-armed with talent, depth and experience. The team has a combined 45 juniors and seniors, including Jonny Robideau, who started as an eighth-grader in the Trojans' most recent state final appearance in 2018. Working in unison, the team is exactly that — a team, Strand said.
“We start probably 18 or 19 different guys," Strand said. "So, our guys get a lot of rest during the games and you’re able to coach and change things up a bit. We’re not focused around one star. They’re really a team.
“We have 17 seniors and all 17 of them do something for the team. Whether it’s special teams, a starter, a backup, a kicker, every single one does something for us and that’s pretty unique.”
However, the fact that the game marks the end of both the season and many seniors' football careers is not lost on the team, regardless of the outcome.
Combine that, revenge and a state title on the line and Strand expects the energy level to be high come Friday’s 1 p.m. kickoff.
“I don’t think this is a game where I’m going to have to give them a big speech to get them ready," Strand said. "I think that the boys are excited and they’re such a great group. The unique thing is that you don’t generally go into a lot of games knowing that, win or lose, we’re done. A lot of their careers will be done on Friday. It’s that finality. They’ve been such a good group with a lot of kids that have been starting for two or three years and you get attached to them and it’s going to be over. Hopefully, the boys are ready. I really think they are as prepared as well as we can prepare them. Now it’s about going out there and making plays."