BRAHAM – The key component of the word “Homecoming” is, of course, Home. Now imagine that your football team has to play its Homecoming game on the road. There is no such thing as Roadcoming. Now imagine that your football team has to play an entire season on the road. That’s almost unimaginable.
That, however, is what the Braham Bombers endured last season. Froyen Field, their home turf, underwent total reconstruction a year ago and the Bombers became road warriors, playing every game on someone else’s field. And yet they managed to maintain what has become another local tradition: advancing to the state playoffs.
The Bombers finished 8-3 last year, reaching the Class 1A state tournament for the fourth year in a row and five of the last six. They played in the state semifinals in 2014 and 2015.
They opened the 2017 season with a 55-0 victory over Chisholm on Thursday evening. And this time, they were at home where they belonged. The new Froyen Field is an absolute showplace, with new grass, a new track, new lights, new bleachers, new press box, new everything. It was a night to remember.
“I think there’s one word that sums it up pretty well, and that’s incredible,” said senior Zach Zierden. “It was such a great feeling getting back on our actual home field, playing with our team in front of our fans.”
Last season the Bombers played two neutral-site games (at Pine City and Rush City) and the rest of the regular season consisted of six true road games. The Homecoming game? It was played 27 miles from home at Hinckley-Finlayson, where the home team (Hinckley-Finlayson) won the road team’s Homecoming game.
“The group that it was most difficult for was last year’s seniors, because they knew that their last home game was as a junior,” said coach Shawn Kuhnke, who also is the high school principal and activities director. “For the rest of us, it was hard going on the road every week but we knew that we had this (new field) coming. We were able to persevere and battle.”
The Bombers looked right at home against Chisholm, scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter on a 40-yard pass from Hunter Giffrow to Josh Zimpel, a 66-yard run by Ryan Roslin and a 6-yard pass from Giffrow to Zach Carlson. The rest of the scoring came in the second quarter and the second half was played under running time by agreement of both head coaches and the officials.
Everything was new for everybody, including the officials. As the first half ended and the officials walked off the field, they weren’t sure where to spend halftime. One of them asked his crewmates, “Where do we go?”
The Braham school band, under the direction of Bryan Johnson, was out in full force, sitting in the brand-new bleachers and pumping out the tunes. Even though school had not started, the musicians had already held three rehearsals and one group dinner.
Tickets were purchased, burgers were grilled and free Bomber Rally Rags were distributed as community members arrived early to celebrate a special evening. When the home team took the short walk from the school to the field just before kickoff, the players held hands and heard cheers.
“It was hard not having a home game last year and having to go on the bus every week,” Giffrow said. “You kind of got used to it but you missed playing on your home field.”
Running back Grant Wilsey said about last season, “We didn’t feel the power of the community. We have such a great community in Braham, and they were so supportive with all our away games. But now that we’re actually here you can really feel it. They are amazing. Our fans are so good and they’re so supportive.”
Prior to Thursday, the most recent home game had been on Oct. 17, 2015, when the Bombers defeated Blackduck in the first round of the Section 7 tournament. That was followed by postseason games at Minnesota-Duluth, Bemidji and St. Cloud State.
So since that win over Blackduck, the Bombers had played 14 consecutive games on the road. And now they’re back where they belong. Home.
They had only practiced on their new field twice; once during the final week of preseason workouts and again the day before the game.
“I think we just kept getting more and more excited,” Zierden said. “As more and more of it came together, we were like, ‘This is going to be really cool. We can’t wait for this.’ That feeling just kept growing and growing in excitement.”
After Thursday’s game, players, families and friends didn’t want to leave their new home. Bombers young and old posed for photos, shared hugs and laughs and lingered until well after the lights were finally shut off.
“This is so big for the town, for the community,” Kuhnke said. “We’ve had so much support from the word go. Back when this thing passed two years ago with overwhelming support, this is the night that so many of us have been waiting for. It couldn’t have been a nicer night. It’s fun to have a home game again.”
Welcome home, Bombers.--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn