Lakeville South coach Ben Burk entered the media room at U.S. Bank Stadium just as Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi was exiting. The two shared a moment, with Burk patting Lombardi on the back as he spoke to him.

Burk should have been in Valhalla after his Cougars held off the Crimson 13-7 on Friday for the Class 6A state championship, the school's first. But he knew it was a stinging loss for Lombardi.

Burk knew because his lads had just survived a slobberknocker.

"Their players played absolutely physical," Burk said. "They gave us the best game we have seen in about two years."

The Cougars (13-0) had not been shut out for a half until Friday. Burk's message at halftime: Good. We have prepared for this.

"We are the more physical team for four quarters than any team in the state because of how we built our program," Burk said.

Then Maple Grove came out for the second half and drove 66 yards to take a 7-0 lead on a 24-yard pass from Jacob Kilzer to Tanner Albeck. Suddenly, every weightlifting session and detailed practice and early morning meeting the Cougars bought in on during the season — the past three years, actually — was put to the test.

The Crimson (11-2) was living dangerously on offense while its defense packed a lunch on Friday — occasionally throwing their lunchboxes at Lakeville South in order to limit its highly touted ground attack. Maple Grove's defense came to play on Friday. I tried to write down the numbers of defensive players making key stops, and I didn't write the number of a Maple Grove player twice in the first half. It was a total team effort.

It worked for most of the night, but two big plays sealed it for the Cougars. Both were by quarterback Camden Dean, the conductor of Lakeville South's Power-T rushing attack.

It goes against today's aerial madness, empty backfields and passing game hijinks. But it works for the Cougars and it got them to the title game.

Maple Grove seemed to have a bead on which Lakeville South running back was getting the ball. The group included All-Metro rusher Carson Hansen. But there were two big misses after the Crimson took that 7-0 lead.

The Cougars responded by going 63 yards in nine plays for the tying score. It was the epitome of how the Power-T can discombobulate opponents. Maple Grove defenders crashed the middle looking for a handoff, but Dean kept the ball and was free around the right end. He deked one Maple Grove defender at the 5 before crashing into the end zone for the tying score.

Maple Grove struggled to sustain several drives, falling into second-and-long situations. Kilzer made some plays through the air, but not enough.

Maple Grove punted to Lakeville South with 6 minutes, 4 seconds left. Six plays later, Lakeville South was at its own 48 — when it happened again.

The running backs went one way, Dean kept the ball, busted through the middle, got a massive block from Wyatt Ronn and scampered into the end zone with a 52-yard touchdown run. The Cougars led 13-7 after the extra point was missed.

"I felt that," Dean said of Ronn's block. "It felt like an explosion."

Maple Grove didn't give up, as Kilzer tried to sling the Crimson down the field. On fourth-and-10 with just over a minute to play, his scramble fell a yard short with both sides of the stadium screaming.

"We're on the field yelling, 'One last play for the state championship,' " linebacker Zach Juckel said. "I was on the opposite side of the field, but I saw him running and was like, 'Dear God, one of our guys get there.' We put our faith in everyone out there on the field."

The last game of the season for these two teams came down to the last possession. After a year without a state championship game because of COVID-19, it was fitting that it returned with a thriller.