John's Journal
A Big Game And A Big Kick … Even For The QB Who Couldn’t Watch9/14/2013
MANKATO – Owatonna quarterback Ian Langeberg, who threw for three touchdowns Friday night, was on the bench and averting his gaze during the game’s final play against Mankato West. Huskies kicker Carter McCauley was lining up a 38-yard field goal. If he makes it, Owatonna wins. Miss and the Big 9 Conference game goes to overtime between the two highest-ranked football teams in Class 5A: No. 1 Owatonna and No. 2 West.

There was plenty of drama, however, even before the kick sailed off into the night. First, West called a timeout. No surprise there, it’s the old “ice the kicker” theory. Make him think about it too much. Make a little doubt creep into his mind. And then came the unthinkable … Owatonna called a timeout. Yes, the Huskies iced their own kicker.

Holder Ty Sullivan had noticed that something was missing. Specifically, the Huskies were missing a player. Only 10 of them were on the field.

“We subbed out our entire PAT team this year to try and shore it up and one of the kids forgot he was on it,” Huskies coach Jeff Williams explained. “So I iced my own kicker.”

No matter. After the dueling timeouts, long snapper Tyler Vogt whistled the ball to Sullivan and McCauley boomed that baby through the posts. Owatonna wins 24-21.

“It didn’t really faze me or anything, it was more a time to get focused, I guess,” McCauley said of the double icing. “I was focusing on my target, I wasn’t thinking about the crowd or anything.”

Now, back to Langeberg. The senior had an exceptional night, throwing touchdown passes of 40 yards to Sullivan, 11 to Sam Fenske and 10 to Luke Wanous. But as the kicking team lined up, the quarterback couldn’t look. And that had nothing to do with a lack of confidence in McCauley.

“Carter’s awesome,” Langeberg said. “He’s worked hard at that for the last couple years. I have complete confidence in the guy. I did not watch it, though. I was just looking at the ground. I felt everybody around me stand up and our side just go crazy. It was crazy.”

Crazy good. For Owatonna certainly, but also for the Scarlets and their giant crowd of fans. The sportsmanship on both sides of the field was exceptional; I heard no grumbling from the West fans, one of whom said to another as they left picturesque Todnem Field, “That was a heck of a game.”

In fact, it was nearly two different games. Owatonna ran a wide-open spread offense in the first half (passing for 219 yards) but switched to a power game in the second. West ran only 19 plays in the second half, thanks to the Huskies’ clock-killing attack (and 30 plays).

“We have the spread concept and we have a power concept and there’s a bleed-in between,” Williams said. “The pendulum kind of swung toward the power game. I had a nice talk with our O line coach, Doug Wanous, at halftime, and he said we need to go off tackle and get outside on these guys. We were still able to throw the ball pretty effectively, I thought, but we started to control the line of scrimmage in the second half and that made all the difference.”

The biggest play of the game – pre-field goal – was a turnover. West was on the Huskies 6-yard line late in the first quarter when a shotgun snap bounced around and was recovered by Owatonna lineman and future Minnesota Gopher Andrew Stelter. It wasn’t long until Langeberg threw to Sullivan for the 40-yard score and 7-0 Huskies lead.

The Scarlets tied it 7-7 when Ryan Schlichte hit Will Claussen for a 40-yard score late in the first quarter, and the same duo hooked up for a 19-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left in the first half, putting West in front 14-7 at the break.

Owatonna put together a powerful drive in the third quarter, running the ball with authority. The Huskies tied it 14-14 when Langeberg dropped back, escaped pressure, scrambled and hit Fenske from the 11.

The Huskies flexed those same muscles on their next drive, which was kept alive when Andrew Petersen ran for five yards on fourth down at the West 20. The go-ahead score came on the 10-yarder from Langeberg to Luke Wanous, making it Owatonna 21, West 14 as the third quarter ended. West’s Schlichte capped the Scarlets’ next drive with a 1-yard quarterback draw for a score, and it was 21-21.

Schlichte completed 14 of 26 passes for 170 yards. Claussen caught six of those passes for 102 yards and the two touchdowns.

McCauley began getting loose and going through his warmup routine when the Huskies got the ball with two and a half minutes to play. After the double icing, he did his job.

“Right when I hit it, I knew it was in,” he said.

In last season’s Class 5A state quarterfinals, Owatonna beat Mankato West 28-0. Should the Huskies and Scarlets meet again this season it will be in the Prep Bowl.

Langeberg, in keeping with his decision to not watch McCauley’s kick, does not want to even speak of the state championship game.

“We don’t like to talk about that very much,” he said. “It’s a long ways away, a lot of things have to happen right for us to get there.”

--To see a photo gallery from the Owatonna-Mankato West game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 67
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 2,106
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Congratulations To The Old Dutch Athlete Of The Week9/11/2013
The first Old Dutch award of 2013-14 goes to St. Cloud Cathedral quarterback Jeff Fasching. Read about Jeff by clicking here
Thinking Back To Twelve Years Ago This Week9/10/2013
I’ll always remember where I was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I had an appointment to speak to a class at Bloomington Jefferson High School, and I turned on the radio at home as I was getting dressed for the day.

There was talk of something bad happening in New York City. I turned on the TV in the kitchen and saw a big black smoldering hole in the side of one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A plane had apparently struck the building, but nobody knew anything more than that. Before long another aircraft blasted into the other twin tower.

I drove to Bloomington Jefferson, arriving a few minutes early. I listened to the radio in the car for as long as I could and then walked into the school and was escorted to the room where the Sports Literature class was meeting. There were televisions in the classrooms, but because of construction work in the school none of the TVs were working. I told the class everything I had learned from listening to the radio, and then we were all in blackout mode.

After the class period ended, I drove to the Star Tribune building in downtown Minneapolis. Like everyone else in the newsroom, I watched the scenes on television. The Pentagon was on fire … a plane had apparently gone down in Pennsylvania.

Fast-forward a few years and I was back at Jefferson, writing about a memorial stone that had been installed at the school in honor of former Jaguars quarterback Tom Burnett, who died when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. I also wrote about former Blake linebacker Gordy Aamoth, who died in one of the twin towers on Sept. 11. The stadium at Blake now bears his name and a twisted beam from the World Trade Center is on display at the stadium.

In the Sept. 14, 2001, edition of the Star Tribune, I wrote a column under the headline “High school sports can help the healing.” I had spoken with people at Colorado’s Columbine High School as well as Osceolo High School in Wisconsin, where a traffic accident had claimed twin brothers a few weeks before Sept. 11. That column seemed to resonate with readers at the time, and to this day people occasionally will mention it to me. I have heard from a few people who say they saved that column, and they read it every day as Sept. 11 comes around. That is equally touching and humbling.

Here is that column as it appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sept. 14, 2001…

High School Sports Can Help The Healing

In the horrible wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all after-school activities were canceled Tuesday in the Jefferson County (Colo.) School District. This didn't surprise Ed Woytek, the athletic director at Columbine High School.

The day's events hit Columbine hard, especially the senior class. They were freshmen on April 20, 1999, when two students shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

"Our coaches and all of us are on kind of a fine line, especially with what happened here previously," Woytek said.

Columbine still is recovering from that day. Recovery also is an ongoing process in Osceola, Wis., where twin brothers Eric and Aaron Kipp, 18, died in a car accident on the way to football practice 30 days ago.

With thousands of innocent people presumed to have perished this week, what do you say? How do you heal? Maybe it's best to listen to the kids. That's among the lessons learned at Columbine and Osceola.

"Pretty much all of them are saying to us, 'We need to be a family,'" Woytek said. "Because that's what happened a few years ago; they got with family. And that's where we need to be, that's where our American people need to be, is with family."

After the Kipp brothers died, football practices were stopped for a short period. But soon, everyone wanted to return -- or try to return -- to some sense of normalcy.

"Very soon, the kids were ready to go back," said Osceola coach/principal Mike McMartin. "They said, 'Coach, I need to keep busy.' And they were right. When we jumped back into it, although they weren't the best practices in the world, there was almost a big sigh of relief that they could start moving forward and take with us all the good things that the boys had shared with us for so many years, instead of thinking about the bad."

Activities went on as scheduled Tuesday in Osceola, the day of the attacks.

"We just really felt during that time it was massively important that we show to the kids, 'Hey, we're going on. We're not going to let these people defeat us or take us off our feet here. We're going to move forward and be proud,'" McMartin said.

At Columbine and Osceola, tragedy struck a specific community of people. This week, tragedy struck us all.

The Columbine Rebels take a 1-1 record into tonight's game at Dakota Ridge. Osceola is 3-0 and the homecoming opponent for rival St. Croix Falls. The games go on, as do our lives.

"Everybody keeps saying we'll never get back to normal, just like our nation will never get back to normal," Woytek said. "But hopefully we're going to get as close to normal as we can."

So if sporting events are part of your normal routine, stick with it. If you haven't been to a high school game in years, tonight would be a wonderful time to go. Get away from the television, escape the headlines. Find a seat in the bleachers and take a break, however temporary, from all that's gone so wretchedly wrong in this world.

Watch the team captains shake hands before the coin flip. Hold your hand over your heart during the national anthem as the flag flutters at half-staff. Bow your head during the moment of silence to honor this week's victims. Get on your feet for the opening kickoff. Watch our young people -- players, cheerleaders, fans -- as they smile, holler and laugh together during this evening that is tradition both athletic and social. Buy popcorn, listen to the band, cheer first downs, simply celebrate.

Maybe administrators at every school can find a recording of God Bless America, and across our states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and beyond -- we'll sing together when the game ends. Just like a family.
The Tractor Trophy: Northfield, Farmington Go Out In Style9/8/2013
One of the great rivalries in Minnesota high school football came to an end Friday when Northfield and Farmington played for the Tractor Trophy. Read about it by clicking here
On The Iron Range, Where Runners Run And A Volleyball Hero Returns Home9/6/2013
COLERAINE – It’s no secret that I have a lot of fun in my job. I also drive a lot of miles. The fun and the miles I accumulated Thursday was something special.

I was enticed via Twitter to drive to Greenway High School – a 450-mile round trip for me – to attend two events: the second annual Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin Titan Invitational cross-country meet at Eagle Ridge Golf Course, followed by a big rivalry volleyball match between Hibbing and Greenway.

It was an outdoor/indoor bash, featuring lots of outstanding competition, enthusiastic fans and community pride.

Speaking of Twitter, that electronic messaging system has clearly taken over the world. The invitation to come to Coleraine arrived via this Tweet: “@MSHSLjohn Would love to have you visit the Range for big CC meet and great VB rivalry on 9/5 in Coleraine!”

Several Tweets later, my trip was booked. Then came this Tweet from a member of the Greenway volleyball team, senior Kate Kuck: “Excited for @MSHSLjohn to come and watch our game against Hibbing! Everyone else should come too! #volleyballgame #Thursday #bethere!”

Greenway (high school enrollment 239) and Nashwauk-Keewatin (129) have cooperative teams in cross-country, football, golf and boys hockey. The Greenway-only teams are the Raiders; Nash-Kee teams are the Spartans; the coop teams are the Titans. One of the key participants in Thursday’s action, however, was not affiliated with any of the “home” teams … at least not officially.

Hannah Johnson, 23 (pictured), is the first-year volleyball coach at Hibbing, as well as one of the most famous athletes in Greenway history. Hannah was an all-state volleyball player for the Raiders, played collegiately at Minnesota Duluth and began her coaching career last season at Mesabi East. She took over at Hibbing this season when Gail Nucech retired after the most illustrious coaching career in Minnesota high school volleyball history. Nucech – who was in the Greenway gym as a fan Thursday night – began the Bluejackets volleyball program in 1969, led the team for 44 years and finished with a state-record 884 victories.

“Of course I would like to follow in her footsteps, success-wise,” Johnson said. “She’s built a great program. I came into this program and I started from scratch from a lot of aspects, but these girls knew what they were doing and they’re very coachable kids. They make my job easy.”

Johnson had not been in the Raiders gym since graduating from high school. Her return didn’t go exactly as she had hoped; Greenway swept the Bluejackets 25-22, 25-21, 25-23 in front of a large crowd that included a vocal band of Raiders students.

“I haven’t watched a Greenway volleyball game since I played in one,” Hannah said after the match. “And nothing has changed, nothing. The fans are still amazing. The fans are really what keeps the energy going; the atmosphere in here is great. It’s fun to play here.”

The cross-country meet and the volleyball match began in the same way: with the Greenway band playing the national anthem. Kudos to the musicians and their director, Sander Grotjohn, for hauling their instruments to the golf course, where they warmed everyone up with “Born To Be Wild,” “Louie Louie” and other tunes.

Also, I would like to officially extend personal kudos to the officers of the Coleraine Police Department. When I arrived at the golf course, the officers were allowing teams and coaches to park in the crowded clubhouse lot while fans were asked to park along the roadway and walk to the course. One of the officers looked at my, uh, graphically enhanced car and said, “Are you guy who’s on Twitter?” Yup. Busted … and getting a good parking spot. That evening at the volleyball match, I was standing outside the gym in a line of fans waiting to buy tickets when another officer came out and waved me through. “I thought that was you,” he said. Love those guys.

The cross-country meet was everything anybody could have hoped for. Seventy-five degrees, bright sunshine, a beautiful golf course. Esko won the girls team title and Esko and Proctor tied for first on the boys side. The individual winners were Esko’s Kailee Kiminski and Mesabi East’s Samuel Johnson.

Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin cross-country coach Will Floersheim is a young coach who knows how to make a meet special. The first event was a short run for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, followed by junior high and junior varsity races before the varsity competitions. Winning teams received delicious trophies: sheet cakes commemorating their accomplishment. I’m not kidding. Sheet cakes.

I arrived at the volleyball match as the teams were finishing warm-ups. Karen Tomberlin Gym is named after a former Greenway coach; Karen’s daughter, Rhaya Tomberlin-Anderson, is now the Raiders volleyball coach. Lineage is big in this story, and yes, Rhaya was Hannah Johnson’s high school coach.

“When she was a freshman at UMD and we took our varsity team to their team camp, she coached them throughout the team camp,” Tomberlin-Anderson said. “I was there to watch and at the end of that camp I said, ‘Hannah, you’ve got a gift. You’ve got to coach.’ I don’t know if she had thought about it before that, but I knew then that she would be an excellent coach.”

The Greenway players certainly remembered Hannah from her high school days. And Hannah was familiar with them, as well.

“I worked with them almost every single summer at UMD camps,” she said. “I know every single one of these kids.”

And just about everybody in the gym knew Hannah Johnson. It had to be a little strange, however, seeing their hometown hero wearing Hibbing blue instead of Greenway Green.

“It’s cool to see their fan base, and I know a lot of people were out here tonight for Greenway, but I know a lot of people came to support me,” Hannah said. “I come from this community and I’ll be part of this community forever.”

It's a great place to call home.

--To see a photo gallery from Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 45
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,818
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn