Todd Oye grew up on a farm near the little southwestern Minnesota hamlet of Hardwick. He attended high school a few miles south in Luverne, where he now is the head football coach and athletic director. Had Oye grown up across the road, he would have gone to school a few miles north and become a Pipestone Arrow instead of a Luverne Cardinal.
An hour or so before kickoff Friday night, Oye chuckled at the randomness of it all. He was standing outside a locker room at Pipestone High School, where the Battle Axe was on the line once more. It’s been this way since 1958, when the two schools began playing for an axe with a head painted Luverne red on one side and Pipestone green on the other. The axe handle carries the same words on each side, again painted in the school colors: The Old Battle Axe.
It might be the best traveling trophy in Minnesota high school football, and this is surely one of the best rivalries. (In this postgame photo, Luverne senior Britton Stratton holds the Axe.)
“It’s a big thing for both communities,” said Pipestone coach Troy Bouman. “It’s always been a big rivalry. It never matters who’s really good and who’s not; the game’s always close.”
The 53rd annual Battle Axe game fit the mold perfectly. On the fifth play of the game, Luverne quarterback Brett Heronimus pitched the ball to Hayden Bauman and Bauman did the rest. He got to the edge, turned down the left sideline and ran 56 yards into the end zone. The defenses took over after that and the Cardinals went home with a 7-0 victory and the Battle Axe.
Luverne is 4-0 and ranked third in Class 2A. The Arrows are 1-3, having been shut out in all three defeats. But when the Battle Axe is on the line, no such facts matter. This is a rivalry, and it means everything.
“I think this shows you that it doesn’t matter what the expectations of the season are for either team going in,” Oye said. “In a rivalry game like this, you see an unbelievable effort. The Pipestone kids played like it was a state championship game.”
The postgame moods were a contrast, but not exactly what you might expect. The Cardinals held up the Axe as their fans roared and cameras flashed, but the players and coaches were not very satisfied with how they performed. Outside the postgame locker room, the words “watching film” were not met with much excitement.
Meanwhile, the Arrows kneeled in an end zone with their heads down as the coach did everything he could to try and keep their chins up.
“If we play the rest of the season like we did tonight, we’re going to win some football games, especially in the postseason,” Bouman said.
FRIDAY’S GAME WAS my longest jaunt of the school year so far. I left home at 10 a.m., detoured around flooded roads and arrived in Pipestone during the homecoming pep fest shortly before the school day ended at 3:15. I headed for home at 9:30 p.m. and pulled into my driveway a little before 2 a.m. And every one of Friday’s 500-plus miles was well worth it.
It was a wild day, but that statement goes far beyond football and historic trophies. The school in Luverne was evacuated at mid-day because of a bomb threat. After leaving the building, Oye realized that the Battle Axe was still inside, so he quietly returned and grabbed it. The Axe itself has three additional components: a piece of log in which the Axe is lodged for display, plus two small wooden structures which carry engraved plates with the score of every game.
The freshmen and sophomore football teams from Pipestone and Luverne also play for trophies. The freshmen have the Butter Knife and the sophomores play for the Hatchet. The Butter Knife? How much fun is that?
PIPESTONE’S PAULSEN Field is a true showplace. The stadium is surrounded by pine trees and flanked on the ends by two pieces of modern technology. A mammoth wind turbine spins beyond the north end zone, and the best high school football scoreboard I have seen is positioned beyond the south end zone. The board includes a digital message board that carries photos, logos and just about anything anyone would want to see. As in all proud communities, fundraising makes such things happen in Pipestone, and the Pipestone Area Community Foundation secured the funds for the scoreboard.
Another sign of community pride took place Saturday evening at Pipestone High School when the newest class of inductees became members of the Pipestone-Jasper Athletic Hall of Fame.
MY PREGAME MEAL was a fabulous pork burger, cooked at the football field and consumed at a picnic table while the teams warmed up. I sat for dinner with my host, Pipestone athletic director Bob Nangle. Bob is a legend not only in southwestern Minnesota but across the state. Bob also coaches boys’ and girls’ cross-country, and his track/cross-country credentials are hard to beat. His resume also includes coaching football, basketball and wrestling, and he has been the athletic director at Pipestone since 1973.
At halftime Friday, the homecoming royalty was introduced, a 50-50 raffle was held and the Pipestone Marching Arrows performed. Since the field was still wet from the week’s rainfall, the Marching Arrows temporarily became the Standing Arrows, performing in front of the home bleachers. They sounded great.
IF TROY BOUMAN’S name rings a bell, it might be because he is the brother of former Vikings quarterback Todd Bouman. Todd was a volunteer assistant coach for the Arrows until early last week, when the Jacksonville Jaguars called in need of a backup quarterback. The Bouman boys are from Russell-Tyler-Ruthton. Since 1997, Todd, 38, has played for the Vikings, Saints, Packers, Rams, Ravens and Jaguars.
At the end of the game as players, families, fans and friends milled around the field, Troy Bouman -- who had shared a postgame handshake and a few kind words with Todd Oye -- talked about what’s really important in all this.
“We lost 7-0 to the No. 3-ranked team in the state and there’s nothing we can hang our heads about,” he said. “You can see the rivalry; everybody’s playing hard on every play. And the coaching staffs and the kids really do get along. It’s just a great, great rivalry.”
FOR A FULL GALLERY OF PHOTOS AND HD VIDEO FROM THE BATTLE AXE GAME, GO TO THE MSHSL FACEBOOK PAGE.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 48
*Miles John has driven: 2,997
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn