Spring Grove gridders emphasize physicality up front

Football hopes are high again at Spring Grove in 2022, based on a trio of talented players from every district and extraordinary depth down the line. The Lions are exceptionally experienced, returning seven of nine starters on both sides of the ball and almost all kicking specialists. However, that experience follows last year’s 3-5 season, the first losing record in 13 years.

Tight end Ethan Crouch drags a Grand Meadow tackle into the end zone. The Spring Grove junior caught two touchdown passes in the preseason scrimmage against the Superlarks. Photo by Lee Epps

One constant is the repeated presence of high-quality receivers and a productive quarterback in the shotgun, spread formation offense. In 2022, it’s a great crew. The second-season starter at quarterback is a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior in all districts Elie Solumthrowing to two wide receivers All-District, 6-5 junior Jaxon Strinmoen and 6-3 seniors Tysen Grinde. Last fall, in his first season as a starting college quarterback, Solum passed for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns — 440 yards at Strinmoen (20 receptions, 4 touchdowns) and 437 yards at Grinde (30 receptions, 3 affected). Other targets will be new starters tight end, 6-4, two-year-old letter winner Ethan Crouch plus 5-10 senior slot receivers, two-year-old letter winner Caleb Griffin and promising letter winner from sophomore 5-11 Bryce Berns.

Running game was below par last fall, but honorable mention running back in all districts Hunter Holland (5-9 Sr., 175) ran very effectively in preseason scrums. The replacement is second Zach Brumm (6-1, 170). Solum is also a ball-carrying threat.

Holland may have more room to run with blocking up front from the deepest collection of Lion linemen in recent memory. Seniors Ty Cleven (6-0, 230) and Logan Brumm (6-0, 200) can play in more than one position in both attack and defense. Another senior Cooper Olson (6-0, 270) will contribute with a pair of sophomores with some starting experience: Brandon Jahnke (6-0, 240) and Emmet Engeldinger (6-2, 210) along with junior Ethan Crouch ( 6-4, 220) at the tight end. Junior Josh Newgaard (6-5, 240) and second Shawn Crouch (6-4, 280) are also available, as is senior Noah Blackburn (6-2, 275).

Third-year head coach Kody Moore said last year’s Lions defense “got it right at the end of the season” with a strong finish. On the D line, look for the same stalwarts as on the O line. Returning linebackers are 2021 top tackle Solum (100 tackles) and Holland, joined this year by junior Jacob Olerud (6-0, 170) and sometimes Ethan Crouch. Back around the corner, Strinmoen and Griffin leading the tackle for loss, with Berns also in the limelight. Depth is provided by junior Braedon Solie. Grinde will head back to safety.

Grinde, Griffin and Holland are three of last year’s kick returners. Grinde was the most active, averaging 21.8 yards per kickoff return with a touchdown. Kicking specialists return with Grinde’s punt, Holland’s kickoff and Griffin’s kick with long shots from Olerud.

The numbers are solid with seven seniors, six juniors, 11 sophomores and nine freshmen. Other young candidates include sophomores Isaac Vick (6-0, 185) and Ben Udstuen (6-4, 165) as well as freshmen Noah Heppner (6-2, 190), Christian Bjerke ( 6-1, 200), Tysen Moen (6-1, 260), Cashton Newgaard (6-2, 185) and Devon Williams (6-1, 215).

Sophomore fullbacks include Sylas Flatin (5-7, 165), Troy Reinhardt (5-10, 130) and Asher Liptack (5-6, 135). Freshman guards are Karson Betcher (5-10, 120), Gabe Klug (5-3, 140), Dash Ranzenberger (5-8, 180) and Jacob Solum (5-9, 160).

The coaching staff all return with Moore assisted by Kaare Sanness, Don Hagen, Aric Elton and Brian Anderson, the latter being primarily in charge of the college Lions.

Looking back

There was plenty of excitement and drama last fall with five competitive meets including a one-point win over Kingsland and a two-point win over Mabel-Canton as well as a three-point loss to Grand Meadow and a narrow 19-12 loss. in Southland.

However, all three blowouts were casualties. The Lions were unable to meet in the regular season game against Southland (46-14) and were pummeled by state champion LeRoy-Ostrander (46-6) and sub-district champion (season regular) Lanesboro (72-27). The match against last-place, winless Lyle/Pacelli was canceled by COVID. Spring Grove finished in the middle, tied for fourth with Southland and Mabel-Canton.

Regular season racing

Spring Grove and Mabel-Canton are the only two teams in the East sub-district to have returned up to three stars from all districts? After a third-place finish in the regular season, LeRoy-Ostrander (12-2, 5-2 East) stormed into a state championship. Most of its superstars have graduated, but the entire Cardinals receiving corps is back. Second-placed Grand Meadow (8-2, 6-1 East) graduated three of its four players from all districts, but the Superlarks fired five starters. Regular-season champion Lanesboro (10-1, 7-0 East) fired four of its five all-league stars, but the Burros were deep and dominant and fired eight key contributors. Loaded with upper class men, Lanesboro is the team to beat until someone proves otherwise.

Mabel-Canton (4-5, 3-4 East) brings back skillful players but must rebuild the line. Southland (4-6, 3-4 East) graduated all four artists from all districts, but the Rebels fired 11 letter winners but only one senior. Houston (2-7, 2-5 East) has numbers but is also young with just four seniors. Kingsland (3-6, 2-5 East) brings back an honorable mention starting quarterback and dropped a tight 27-24 start to the season last weekend against Renville County West. Lyle/Pacelli were winless last year but have a senior-dominated side in 2022.

Could the Lions be the most likely to leave the middle of the pack and fight for a championship? Spring Grove should be improved, while part of the opposition recharges. Grand Meadow gets the first chance to dethrone Lanesboro, hosting the Burros in Game 1. Will the title still be up for grabs when Spring Grove hosts Lanesboro in the regular season finale?

The scrums

Last year’s annual pre-season scrums at Grand Meadow were canceled due to weather conditions. This year, after more than an hour of downpour, the event continued under beautiful skies. After giving up a long early touchdown against Lyle/Pacelli, Spring Grove beat the Athletics, 2 touchdowns to 1. The Lions then beat Grand Meadow, 3 touchdowns to 1 and finally Southland 3-0.

The opener

For the second straight season, the Lions open against Houston, this year at home on Friday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. 22 years old. He was scoreless at halftime before Spring Grove extended their winning streak against the ‘Canes to 16 games.

Spring Grove is once again the only team to face the other eight rivals from the East sub-district. The other teams each have a crossover match against an enemy from the western sub-district. There are home games with Houston, Mabel-Canton, LeRoy-Ostrander and Lanesboro. There are car journeys to Lyle/Pacelli, Grand Meadow, Southland and Kingsland. Due to a lack of officials, the Sept. 24 road trip to GM (1 p.m.) and the Oct. 8 home meeting with LO (5 p.m.) will be played on Saturday.

The summary

It will be quite a task to strangle Spring Grove’s explosive air attack. But will the ground game regain its former importance? Will the defense be better able to deal with the strongest attacks in the league? Coach Moore expressed the “need to do a better job of being physical up front and running the ball. The physique in the trenches on both sides of the ball needs to be better.

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Lions the last 7 seasons (SG Soccer)

2021 3-5 (3-4 East, 4th draw)

2020 5-3 (4-2 East 3rd)

2019 7-3 (5-2 East, 3rd draw)

2018* 14-0 (7-0 East, 1st)

2017* 14-0 (7-0 East, 1st)

2016 9-2 (7-1 East, 2nd)

2015 9-2 (7-1 East, 2nd)

overall 61-15 (league 40-10)

* state champion, section champion

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Spring Grove soccer 2021

7:00 p.m. kick-off unless otherwise specified (series records date back to 1949)

Fri Sep 02….Houston—–last year: SG 14, Houston 0 (SG won last 16, leads series 43-30-2)

Fri 09 Sep…..at Lyle/Pacelli (Lyle) – last year COVID canceled. (Lions have won the last 14 games, lead the series 17-2)

Fri. Sept. 16….Mabel-Canton—–last year SG 28, MC 26 (Lions won last 17; Cougars lead series 36-26)

Sat. Sept. 24…at Grand Meadow 1 p.m. — last year GM 20, SG 17 (GM won last four, series lead 35-10)

Fri. Sept. 30….at Southland (Adams)——last year Sou 46, SG 16 and Sou 19, SG 12 (Rebels lead the series 12-3)

Sat. Oct.08…..LeRoy-Ostrander 5:00 p.m. – last year LO 46, SG 6 (LO won last three, leads series 15-13)

Fri Oct 14……at Kingsland (Spring Valley) – last year SG 21, KHS 20 (Lions lead series 3-0)

Marry. Oct. 19…Lanesboro———-Last year, LHS 72, SG 27 (Burros won last two; SG leads series 27-23-3)