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Johnson back in starting lineup

Matt Johnson played a big roll in helping the Superior High School football team snap its 10-game losing streak in last Friday's 28-21 win over the Duluth East Greyhounds.

The junior running back and linebacker rushed for 55 yards and two TDs on offense and turned in seven tackles on defense. But when the final horn sounded, Johnson wasn't around to help celebrate the Spartans' first victory since Sept. 24, 2004 as he was on his way to the hospital with a neck-area injury.

"Last week was great," Johnson said. "I haven't been on a winning team in 10 games -- it's just too bad I missed out on the end of the game. Everyone I talked to said it was unbelievable."

After the win, the Spartans joined fellow students along the sideline and belted out a version of the SHS school song.

But as the fifth-quarter celebration was happening, Johnson was getting his neck checked out by a doctor.

The injury occured when getting tackled in the second half against East. Johnson landed awkwardly on his back and couldn't roll over to get up.

"It's called a strained thoracic (near the thorax in the neck area), basically like a semi-stinger," Johnson said. "It didn't really go through my arms, it was just in my back."

The crowd sat quietly as Johnson was being put on a stretcher, but Johnson knew the injury wasn't serious and things were being done for precautionary reasons.

"I wasn't scared, it's happened before in practice and it started in wrestling," Johnson said. "I went to the doctor for it and there isn't really anything they can do for it. I knew I was all right, but I just couldn't roll over and get up."

After working through a stiff and sore neck over the weekend, Johnson returned to practice Tuesday and will be back in the starting lineup when the Spartans play at 7 p.m. Friday at Menomonie.

The Indians (2-0) enter the game with the state's No. 3 ranking among Division 2 teams. They opened the season by defeating Mukwonago 42-6 and Hopkins, Minn., 44-3.

"In my opinion, for the past 15 years, they've been the best football program in the state," SHS coach Bob DeMeyer said. "They're not always the best team, and don't always win state titles, but they're the program in the state overall."

Menomonie defeated Superior 43-0 a year ago, so DeMeyer and Johnson know the Spartans have their work cut out for them.

"I think the kids know what kind of team Menomonie is and know they have to play well to contend with them," DeMeyer said. "Regardless of what happens, win, lose or draw, we're telling the kids we want them to give their best effort on every play and we want them (Menomonie) to know they were in a battle.

"They're not invincible, they're a good football program and they didn't get there over night. That's where we want to get to. They expect to win every time they take the field and that's what we're striving for."

Johnson says playing the Indians tough will be a step in turning Superior's football program in the right direction. Plus, he'd like to get another chance at a post-game celebration.

"We know we have to work hard," Johnson said. "We know we're going against one of the best teams in the state, but we know we have the talent and can contend with them.

"If we can contend with Menomonie, that's the first big step in turning around the program."

With Johnson back in the starting line up, the Spartans will be full strength for Friday's game.

"Knock on wood, we're healthy right now," DeMeyer said. "The kids that had some sickness last week, they're good to go. We're still missing some bodies due to ineligibles, but this will be their last game."

SPARTAN SPIN: Chris Blake also rushed for two TDs for the Spartans last week and Max Phillips led the defense with 14 tackles (five unassisted).

Ken Olson covers sports. E-mail at kolson@superiortelegram.com or call (715) 394-4421, ext. 135.

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