ST. CHARLES – When Chatfield senior running back Gage Tuohy raced 59 yards for a touchdown with 96 seconds left in Friday night’s football game, it put the wraps on a couple of things. Gage’s second touchdown sealed the Gophers’ 22-6 victory over St. Charles and kept one of the state’s oldest athletic trophies right where it was, and it also ended a day of festive events in this town of 3,700 located 25 miles east of Rochester.
The result of the Week 7 game gave both teams a record of 6-1; they came into the contest holding Top 10 rankings in Class 2A, the Saints at No. 5 and Chatfield at No. 9. The top-ranked team is nearby Caledonia, which handed the Gophers their only loss and will play host to the Saints on Wednesday as the regular season ends.
A few hours before kickoff, St. Charles High School students were packed into the gymnasium for the crowning of Homecoming royalty. The big finish was preceded by loads of fun and games, cheers and music. Competitions were held to decide the champions of eating donuts (suspended on strings) and Fruit Roll-Ups without the use of hands. There were games with key elements that included whipped cream and marshmallows, the concert choir sang, the cheerleaders cheered.
After King Isaac Davidson and Queen Megan Shanahan had been successfully crowned, the gym cleared and the streets of St. Charles were filled with the Homecoming parade … well, a street or two were busy for a few minutes. This was the epitome of a wonderful small-town parade; a police cruiser, flags carried by veterans, a fire truck, the marching band, the Homecoming royalty riding on convertibles, teams, clubs and classes marching on foot or riding in pickups and trailers. The parade wound past the elementary school – with excited little kids standing curbside and receiving low fives from big kids – then made a pair of right turns and headed down Whitewater Avenue (aka Main Street) before returning to the high school.
Brief history lesson: St. Charles was named after Saint Charles Borromeo, archbishop of the Italian city of Milan in the 1500s. Chatfield carries the name of Andrew G. Chatfield, who was a member of the Minnesota Territorial Supreme Court 300 years after Charlie’s reign as archbishop.
The setting for the football game could not have been better. The Saints football field is also the outfield for the baseball diamond, and some of the hometown students sat under blankets on comfy couches (I swear I also saw a lamp sitting on an end table) behind the west end zone. The setting sun illuminated a stand of color-shifting trees across U.S. Highway 14, and shortly before kickoff the steady clip-clop of a horse’s hooves could be heard on the highway as an Amish gentleman, flatbed wagon laden with groceries in white plastic bags, headed home from a trip to town.
After a quick 15-mile ride, the Chatfield Gophers disembarked from the bus at 6 o’clock in almost-full uniform. They strapped up their shoulder pads and pulled on their jerseys at the visitor’s bench just outside second base. They wore all white other than their maroon helmets. They looked sharp, although white pants weren’t in the original plan for this game.
A week earlier they had won at Lewiston-Altura, and mud was a main theme. The players’ moms do the football laundry for their sons, and Gophers coach Jeff Johnson had decided that, with another moist field likely after a week of rain, maroon pants would be worn at St. Charles so the moms would get a break. The players disagreed.
“I got a text from one of the kids who said, ‘Let’s keep it going with the white pants,’ ” Johnson said before kickoff. Why mess with a good thing?
The Saints wore all black with orange helmets, looking equally sharp. The St. Charles helmets carry an outstanding school logo, the letters SC underneath a halo.
As referee Tom Schultz and his crew met with the team captains for the coin toss, Tom conveyed an important message to the kids: “When you're done playing, consider becoming an official in any sports you enjoy. We need you.” This would be a great message from officials at any and all high school activities.
The game was up for grabs at halftime, with Chatfield leading 7-6. Tuohy’s first score made it 15-6 early in the third quarter before turnovers killed two Saints drives. That became a theme, especially for Chatfield senior Seth Allen, who intercepted four passes thrown by Saints sophomore Drew Maloney. Drew became the starter when senior Mark Buringa suffered a leg injury a week prior at Zumbrota-Mazeppa.
Mark had served as the master of ceremonies during the afternoon coronation ceremony, sitting behind a microphone (along with his crutches) at the scorer’s table. He watched the football game, wearing his No. 2 jersey, from the bed of a backed-up truck.
On the St. Charles sideline, two coaches walked back and forth, one wearing a headset and one wearing a well-worn ballcap. The Saints’ third-year head coach is Matt Reinhardt. His staff consists of Derrick Thompson, Nathan Whitacre and Jim Reinhardt. Matt (headphones) and Jim (ballcap) are son and dad.
Jim Reinhardt retired as the head coach at Rushford-Peterson in 2009. He had a career record of 198-68 over 24 years with the Trojans, where his teams won 23 conference championships, went to state nine times and won Class 1A state titles in 2002, 2004 and 2006. Matt Reinhardt, 33, played quarterback for Jim, 68, and became a teacher, just like his father.
“He knows a lot, he works well with the kids,” Matt said after the game. “He’s done such a good job with our offensive line this year, and our defensive line. That’s kind of made our season. And our kids really like him.”
More history: As the game ended and the teams exchanged handshakes, the Gophers ran to their bench to celebrate with what might be the oldest traveling trophy in Minnesota high school football. It’s called the Armistice Day Trophy.
Armistice Day marked the end of World War I in 1918. The end of hostilities took effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 that year, also known as the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The trophy, created by American Legion posts in Chatfield and St. Charles, was first contested in 1947. In the early days of the trophy, the game was always played on Armistice Day, whether Nov. 11 fell on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or whenever.
The Saints won the prize in 2015 and 2016, and now the Gophers have held it for two years in a row. It’s a glorious golden football resting on a wooden base, with the scores from each game in the series inscribed on metal plates.
Friday’s game ended at 9:11 p.m. and the Gophers were hoisting the Armistice Day Trophy by 9:15. Their white uniforms carried a little mud, but the moms of Chatfield will happily make them look like new.
“That’s a good football team and we knew they were going to pound the ball like they’ve always done,” Johnson said of the Saints. “Our kids had a great game plan defensively, and we did our best to stop them. We’ve faced this offense before and it’s one thing to game prep for it, and it’s another thing to have your kids execute. And they really did.”
Somewhere, Judge Andy Chatfield is proudly proclaiming bragging rights over Saint Charlie.--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
--Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn