HUTCHINSON – On a glorious opening night of the football season, the most difficult moment Thursday evening – at least for the spectators -- might have been the national anthem. The Hutchinson band played a stellar version, but the sun was parked low in the sky, directly behind the American flag at S.R. Knutson Field. A few thousand people can be excused for squinting.
The hardest part of the night for the football players from Becker and Hutchinson was twofold: Dealing with the heat and dealing with each other. The non-conference game was not an exercise in precision, with turnovers and dropped footballs abounding, and by end of the night Hutchinson had earned a 16-13 victory in overtime. Oh yes, the heat ... and another word that starts with H.
Hutch assistant coach David Larson told the Tigers in their postgame gathering, “Maybe you didn’t believe us about hydration. You do now.”
I considered Thursday’s game the No. 1 event of Week 1. Hutchinson is coming off a Class 4A state championship, which included a 28-24 victory over Becker in the state semifinals at the Metrodome.
The Title Town excitement in Hutch is something to see. Students were tailgating in the parking lot, they stood as one in the stands throughout the game, all wearing black, the band was fantastic, railbirds watched from the fence that circles the field. There is a burgeoning effort to install artificial turf, more bleachers and a new press box at the historic old football grounds before next season, and this kind of excitement means striking while the iron is hot.
There was one odd sight when the teams came out to warm up. Becker was wearing its blue uniforms, which it normally wears for home games. Seemed strange, and there were several explanations ... from the Hutch faithful.
Possibility No. 1: Becker coach Dwight Lundeen wanted Hutch to wear their white jerseys so it would be harder to disguise the football’s whereabouts from the Bulldogs.
Possibility No. 2: Lundeen is superstitious and when his team loses he doesn’t want to wear the same color in the next game, even if it’s a season later.
Possibility No. 3: Becker has ordered new white jerseys but they hadn’t all been delivered in time for Thursday’s game.
When I interrogated Lundeen -- who is the only head coach Becker has known since the football program began in 1970 – about the Great Uniform Mystery, his statement was that not all the white jerseys had arrived, and the old white jerseys didn’t match the pants the Bulldogs were wearing. Case closed, I think.
Both teams are different this year, particularly at quarterback. Hutchinson’s new QB is junior Marcus Hahn, who threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Juergensen on Thursday and did the placekicking. The Bulldogs used senior Zach Zimmer, junior Michael Veldman and sophomore Andrew Stanger at quarterback.
But there were some similarities to last year’s state semifinal game, especially in Hutch running back Tory Adams. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior carried 18 times for 147 yards vs. Becker last year, and on Thursday he ran 20 times for 140 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown to cap the game’s opening drive.
Becker trailed 7-0 before it had touched the ball, and it appeared that the Tigers had set a firm tone with the impressive 60-yard drive. But no. The Bulldogs defense firmed up, the Hutch defense did the same and the contest turned into a hot-weather game of attrition.
Several times, Hutch running back Robbie Grimsley (who wears No. 5 and therefore is called RG5), left the game with leg cramps. But RG5 never stopped coming back in, a testament to the toughness on both teams.
After Stanger intercepted a pass deep in Becker territory in the second quarter, he finished the ensuing drive by throwing – on fourth down from the 5 -- a touchdown pass to Eric Blomgren to make it a 7-7 game.
At halftime, Lundeen – who ranks third on the state’s career victory list – told his team, “That was a pretty good first half. We’re not questioning your effort, but we have to take care of the ball better … the ball’s a little slippery and so are your arms. Hang on to it tight.”
The Bulldogs’ defensive plan for the second half was to shut down Hutch’s running game and make Hahn throw. The first part of that formula never came to fruition; Hahn attempted only eight passes all night, completing four and being picked off three times.
Each team scored a fourth-quarter touchdown, with Hahn throwing to Juergensen and Stanger throwing to Blomgren again. And both teams missed the extra-point kicks after those scores, sending the thing to overtime with a 13-13 tie.
Hutch had the first possession, getting four plays from the 10-yard line. They went like this: RG5 ran for 5, fumbled handoff (loss of a yard), fumbled snap ( loss of two yards), field goal by Hahn.
Becker’s overtime script: Bobby Lee run loses a yard, incomplete pass thrown by running back Josh Nohner, pass to Blomgren moves the ball to the 8 … and on the final play of the game, a pass was intercepted by Hutch’s Adam Elliott.
Thus ended two hours and 30 minutes of sweat, emotion, great plays, sloppy plays, excitement and fun.
“You hung in there and you hung in there,” Hutchinson coach Andy Rostberg said to his players as they took a knee in an end zone. Now, tomorrow …”
Yes, tomorrow. There are a whole bunch of tomorrows to come. The season has just begun. In grand style.
--To see a photo gallery from the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 20
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,088
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
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