Sports editor’s note: This is the 11th installment of the ‘Celebration Saturday’ series highlighting top individual and team achievements in the West Central Tribune area. Today’s story looks at the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City football team that won the Class AA state championship in 2001.
GROVE CITY — Nineteen years later, Terry Karlsgodt still reflects fondly on the perfect mix of brawn and brains he had to work with in 2001.
Coaching Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City for a total of 39 years until his retirement in 2014, Karlsgodt and his staff always had a gameplan ready to hand to players on Mondays to be ready for Friday nights. There was plenty of success as Karlsgodt pieced together a 246-137 career record with four trips to state.
But the 2001 Falcons were a different beast entirely.
“They were so focused and so intense,” Karlsgodt said. “They were into it and they listened well (when watching film). They had our schemes down. We never have had quite the same mental intensity as those guys did and that grew through the year until the playoffs when we had some short weeks of preparation.”
With a stacked and studious squad, ACGC bulldozed its way to an undefeated regular season before out-scoring its Section 5AA oppopents 173-14 to get to state for the second time.
“As a high-school player, normally you go to film and you just let it play while everyone is talking,” said running back/defensive end David Blom. “We sat there and it was a straight-up study session. When the team came up to the ball, we knew what they were doing better than they were doing it.”
With 22 seniors scattered through the lineup, the 2001 Falcons won the first state championship in school history with a 27-20 victory against Windom.
“It was a dream season; A lot went into it,” said fullback/linebacker Justin Downes. “It didn’t happen by accident. We had a really tight group of guys and it still remains that way.”
Breaking BOLD’s streak
The 2001 season started hot for the Falcons as they locked up wins over New London-Spicer (37-6), Paynesville (40-14) and Benson (50-12).
Leading an offense that averaged 41.2 points per game was Blom, who was named first team all-state after capping off the year with 315 carries for 2,410 yards (currently ranked ninth in state history for a season) and 37 rushing touchdowns. Downes ran 142 times for 852 yards and 13 scores. Jake Nordin (90-488-5) and Matt Fordyce (60-407-4) also ran for over 400 yards.
On the line was a group of ferocious blockers, led by 6-foot-3, 300-pound right tackle Chris Adams, who also earned first team all-state honors.
When the team decided to throw, senior Brian Kingery completed 42 of 90 passes for 697 yards and 11 touchdowns. His favorite target was tight end Kent Anderson, who had 26 catches for 550 yards and nine scores.
“We had some natural dudes,” Kingery said. “David was a naturally gifted runner with speed and power. He was a home-run hitter. Nordin, he was a specimen; there’s not many 6-4, 240-pound high-school kids, and he went on to play in the NFL for a few years. … Chris is still the best offensive lineman I’ve seen coaching; he was a man-child. The line was stronger than everybody else and would open up huge holes. … Kent was a stud and was a state champ in the hurdles.”
The defense held teams to 7.9 points and had a trio of players with 100 total tackles in all-state first team linebacker Jake Nordin (166) along with Anderson (125) and Downes (102). The unit had 48 sacks — led by Blom’s 13-1/2 — and 30 takeaways (18 interceptions, 12 fumble recoveries).
“Our defense was every bit as good as our offense,” Downes said.
Special teams were also solid for the Falcons with Joe Nordin at punter, whom Karlsgodt noted was the best punter he’s ever coached.
“We just didn’t have a soft spot,” Karlsgodt said. “... When I talk about having no holes, our special teams were really strong, too.”
And it was the defense that made the difference for ACGC against the Two Twelve Conference standard-bearer: BOLD.
In a Week 4 matchup in Olivia, the Falcons held a 14-7 lead late in the fourth quarter when the Warriors started a drive at midfield and got all the way down to ACGC’s 1-yard line. On fourth-and-goal from the 1 and with 1:35 left to play, the Falcons’ defense dropped BOLD back Chris Rodel for a loss to end the threat on the way to a 14-9 victory.
Aided by that win, ACGC went on to win the Two Twelve outright, breaking the Warriors’ streak of nine straight conference championships.
“That’s a game that anyone can go back and enjoy,” Downes said about the win over BOLD.
“That was the best high school game I was a part of,” Kingery added. “The fourth game of the season and beating a big rival, it was just exciting. A state championship is cool, but BOLD was the big thing.”
Kingery added, “You beat them, you got something.”
Blackout to shutouts
For the second year in a row, the Falcons found themselves in the Section 5AA championship game against Holdingford in Grove City.
The 2000 edition of the game stalled abruptly after the power went out in Grove City, causing a delay that lasted over an hour.
“Someone drove into a pole in Grove City,” Karlsgodt said. “Just the strangest thing.”
After that, the Huskers dominated with a 24-6 win that saw ACGC turn the ball over five times.
“I remember getting crap from siblings and my then-girlfriend, and the Tribune’s headline for the game was ‘Lights go out on ACGC’s season,’” Blom said. “That was the motivation (in 2001). I was happy to play against Holdingford again.”
There were no troubles with the lights the second time around. There was no drama, either, as the Falcons cruised to the section championship, 62-0.
“That was a big revenge game and (Holdingford) had a good football team when we played them,” Kingery said. “We just had more talented dudes.”
Playing Hawley to open state in the Class AA quarterfinals, the Falcons’ defense put up its third shutout of the season while Blom ran for 336 yards and five touchdowns in a 54-0 victory.
“We went into the playoffs with big numbers. The first two games, we scored over 50 points and then beat Holdingford 62-0,” Karlsgodt said. “Then Hawley came to Grove City in the first round and they were 11-0. They’re a great team with a tremendous tradition and we beat them 54-0 to get to the Dome.”
When ACGC made it to state in 1998, it looked like a trip to the state finals was a certainty. Facing Mahnomen in the Class AA semifinals, the Falcons were up 21-6 with 61 seconds left. The chants of “We want BOLD” were ringing in the players’ ears after the Warriors reached the finals the night before with a win over Dover-Eyota.
That was before the Indians scored 16 points in short order as the team scored all of its points in the fourth quarter in a 22-21 upset. Mahnomen would go on to win the 1998 Class AA championship over BOLD, 27-26.
The 22 seniors on the 2001 squad, they were watching along the sidelines as freshmen.
“Heart-wrenching disappointed,” Kingery said about the 1998 semifinals.
“It’s one of those things where, after that one, if you’re in that kind of situation, there’s no lead that’s too much. You put your foot on the gas and don’t let up.”
So when the 2001 squad got to the Metrodome, there was going to be no slip-up.
Squaring off with Breckenridge in the semifinals, ACGC led 21-0 at halftime and held the Cowboys to five first downs in a 28-7 victory. The running game went off for 196 yards, Kingery and Anderson connected for touchdown passes of 36 and 33 yards, and the defense had three interceptions on the day.
“That was one of our better games through the year,” Karlsgodt said. “The kids really rose to the occasion and made great plays through that game. In containing their offense, we put together one of our best scouting reports ever. We kind of knew what they were going to do and the kids just executed it to perfection.”
In the Class AA finals with ACGC was Windom, which was an unlikely team to make the championship on paper after a 4-4 regular season. But Karlsgodt and his staff weren’t about to lose focus based on first appearances.
“They had a lot of talent and the thing was, Windom was the only 2A school in that (Southwest) Conference,” Karlsgodt said. “They were playing Marshall, JCC, Worthington, Redwood Falls; everybody was one or two classes bigger than them. We told our guys this record is very deceptive.”
And deception helped the Eagles stun the Falcons on the first play from scrimmage as a play-action pass from Tim Gauer hit future North Dakota State standout Kole Zimmerman for a 60-yard gain. On the next play, Zimmerman ran in a 1-yard touchdown run. The two teams traded scores before the end of the first quarter as Windom led 14-7.
It was just the third time ACGC trailed all year.
“We didn’t take care of business on our keys and that play took some wind out of our sails,” Downes said about Windom’s play-action connection.
With touchdown runs of 34 and 38 yards by Blom along with a 3-yard Kingery TD run in the third, ACGC held a 21-14 lead with 12 minutes to go.
“The big thing is, we responded,” Kingery said. “It was rare that we trailed but when we were down, we responded in a positive way.”
The Falcons’ defense kept the Eagles off the board in the second and third quarters and went on to limit Windom to seven rushing yards and 15 passing yards in the second half.
“After getting scored on right away, (the defense) really came to play after that,” Karlsgodt said. “They realized how key it was to read their keys and play disciplined. You had to do your job. Don’t try to do too much and follow those keys. Those are things the guys bought into and that was definitely one of the things that set that group apart.That came into play throughout the game and the closer we got to smelling the end, the more they focused.”
Blom set a then-Prep Bowl record with 37 carries for 220 yards. The run game led the way on a 56-yard fourth-quarter drive that brought the ball to the Eagles’ 6-yard line.
“I got a great picture of Windom having nine guys against the box (on that drive),” Downes said. “They knew what we were going to do and we knew what we were going to do.”
Naturally, Windom was awaiting another rushing attempt. Instead, Kingery ran the play-action and found a wide-open Austin Martin for a 6-yard insurance score.
“There were two guys open on that play,” Kingery said with a laugh. “And (Martin) actually bobbled it. Looking back at it, I did the fake out well; all 11 guys were going to David. I could have run it in easily. I hit the pass, it got bobbled and Austin caught it right by the knees. It was very nerve-racking.”
In Windom’s final drive, Blom and Adams both collected sacks, helping to lock up a title three years in waiting.
“After we went through and got the trophy and the medals, I did a Lambeau Leap into my cousin’s arms from that ‘98 team and cried like a baby,” Downes said.
“I’m getting goosebumps a little bit talking about it,” said Blom, who replaced Karlsgodt as ACGC’s football coach in 2014. “The crowd was just a sea of black and teal. There were just so many people there, you wish you could sit with and hug everybody.”
Kingery remembers the moments after the team walked out of the Metrodome. All the mental and physical prep work finally paid off.
“The game gets over and four or five of us seniors just sat there on the steps. It was over,” Kingery said. “It hits you right away: you’re jacked, you’re happy and now, it’s done. We just sat there and talked for five minutes going out of the Metrodome. It was kind of a cool experience.”
Kingery added, “State experiences don’t come around very often. The community support we had, everyone knew we had an opportunity that was rare for us.”
Here’s a list of championships with the date the stories ran in the West Central Tribune:
May 16 — Alex Carlson and Chris Patten (2000 Litchfield boys tennis)
May 23, 26 — 2009 New London-Spicer football
May 30 — 1985 Willmar girls golf
June 6 — 2005 Paynesville baseball
June 13 — Nikki Swenson (LQPV/D-B cross-country/track, 2007)
June 20 — The 1980-1981 Bird Island-Lake Lillian football and boys basketball teams
July 3 — 2010 Minnewaska girls golf team
July 11 — 1986 Midwest Minnesota girls basketball
July 18 — Link Steffen (Granite Falls-Clarkfield wrestling, 1993)
July 25 — The 1998-2000 Central Minnesota Christian volleyball team
Aug. 1 — 2001 Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City football
Area football champions
1977 — Granite Falls (Class B)
1979 — Bird Island-Lake Lillian (C)
1980 — Bird Island-Lake Lillian (C)
1984 — Granite Falls (B)
1987 — Granite Falls (B)
1990 — BOLD (B)
1991 — BOLD (B)
2001 — ACGC (AA)
2008 — KMS (A)
2009 — New London-Spicer (AAA)
2011 — Dawson-Boyd (A)