One starting quarterback, Chad Costello, was resting on crutches, his right foot immobilized due to a Lisfranc fracture suffered last week. The other starting quarterback, sophomore Bennett Otto, was not on the practice field, instead resting and preparing for surgery to repair a broken collarbone.
Two starters, both out, and the biggest game of the year was just three days away.
No wonder Champlin Park coach Mike Korton was shaking his head as he and his staff prepared the Rebels for their Class 6A semifinals showdown with Eden Prairie on Friday.
“What do you do?” he asked. “You still have to go out and play.”
A few miles to the east, Blaine junior Connor Melton, clad in a red quarterback’s practice jersey with a drape of blond hair (“He reminds me of Sunshine from ‘Remember The Titans’,” Blaine coach Tom Develice observed), is taking reps and getting ready to lead the Bengals against Totino-Grace in the first Class 6A semifinal Thursday.
Melton started the season on the bench behind senior K.J. Downey but took over when he suffered a separated shoulder against, of all teams, Champlin Park (a 34-30 Rebels victory) on Sept. 23 and has been starter ever since.
Two very good teams with state championship dreams that became even better when they replaced the most important position on the field in midstream.
Honestly, when does that happen?
“If you had told me that we were going to go with our backup and get to the state semis, I would have said, ‘I don’t know about that,’ ” Develice said.
It’s not as if either team was struggling before making the change. It’s been more about having a team rally behind the new guy, stepping up their game to make up the difference.
Champlin Park trailed Armstrong 7-6 in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs when Otto was injured. It was the chance Costello was waiting for. He came in and led an offensive onslaught that ended in a rout of Armstrong, then surprised everyone by guiding a 35-33 upset of East Ridge.
“It was mixed emotions because my best friend had just broken his collarbone and was done, but I knew I had a job to do,” Costello said.
With Downey out, Melton made his debut Sept. 30 against Totino-Grace, Blaine’s opponent in the semifinals.
“He seemed a little nervous, but as soon as he came, he stepped up and showed himself,” Blaine running back Chase Harper said. “We knew he had a nice arm, but we thought he might be a little timid. He wasn’t.”
Blaine came within a touchdown of a victory that night, falling 21-14. Melton said he remembers everything about that game.
“I was such a great experience,” Melton said. “I got to see what varsity playing time was like and it brought a dual aspect to the offense, with screen passes and things like that.”
Blaine hasn’t lost since, with Melton putting up some pretty impressive numbers. He’s passed for 1,503 yards and 17 touchdowns in just seven starts and has been even better in the postseason, with 799 yards and 11 touchdowns in three playoff games. Develice credits Melton’s support system for his success.
“A lot of his core of friends on the team are upperclassmen,” Develice said. “When he came in against Totino-Grace, a lot of those seniors looked at him and said, ‘I got your back’.”
Costello received the same respect when he took over at Champlin Park. He’d been the starter as a junior, so his teammates knew what to expect.
“It was kind of bittersweet when he came back,” wide receiver Marcus Hill said. “On one hand, it was hard that Bennett went out. But we knew Chad and what he could do.”
Costello experienced both the best game of his career and perhaps its lowest moment in the Rebels’ 34-28 overtime victory over Rosemount in the quarterfinals. He threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns, but suffered a broken right foot during the second drive of the game. He played the rest of the game on it, but an MRI on Monday revealed a Lisfranc fracture. He’ll miss the semifinal.
“It was painful,” Costello said. “On a scale of one to 10, it wasn’t a 10 because of the adrenaline, but it was a seven or eight. I can deal with the pain, but the trainer told me I could injure myself worse if I played.”
So Champlin Park is forced to do it again. They’ve already succeeded with one backup QB. Why not a second?
“We’re going to bring in our linebacker, Joey Faulds,” Korton said. “He was a quarterback for the freshman team and the sophomore team. He’s been through the system, he’s done the work. We’ll just tell our guys to focus on doing their jobs. It worked for us before.”