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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/8/2013 3:27:13 PM

FARMINGTON -- Even the oldest of the old-timers don’t remember the first time Northfield and Farmington met on the high school football field. The 52nd meeting in the series was played Friday night at Tiger Stadium, with Farmington rallying from a 14-0 deficit to win 21-14. The outcome provided a bookend to the first game between the Raiders and Tiger, which was a 21-0 victory by Northfield … in 1891.

One hundred twenty-two years after that first game, Friday’s contest may have been the last meeting. You never know what the future holds, but when the Missota Conference disbands after this school year, Northfield and Farmington will go their separate ways. The Raiders will become a member of the Big 9 Conference and the Tigers will join the South Suburban Conference. Their schedules won’t allow for either team to take the short drive on Highway 3 and continue the football rivalry.

At the conclusion of Friday’s game, the Tigers celebrated with the famed Tractor Trophy. The hardware is relatively new as rivalry trophies go, but it has held immense importance for the 13 years it has been on the line between Northfield and Farmington. The Tigers won the Tractor game nine times to Northfield’s four.

The trophy is just what its name suggests: a wooden structure holding a replica John Deere tractor and miniature helmets from both teams. It was built by Northfield defensive coordinator and industrial arts teacher Mark Woitalla.

“Once upon a time we were farm communities, and it made sense,” Northfield coach Bubba Sullivan said. “I’ve joked that before we started playing for the trophy we were winning about four out of every five games (against Farmington). Since then, they’re winning about four out of five.”

The end of the Tractor Trophy rivalry is only the latest of such occurrences for Farmington. The Tigers are in the 32-team Class 6A football division beginning this fall, and next year’s move to the South Suburban (in all sports) will officially put them on the top tier of prep sports in Minnesota. Farmington used to play three trophy football games each year in the Missota, facing Prior Lake for the Milk Can and Hutchinson for the Tiger Trophy.

In the overall series, Northfield won 32 times, Farmington won 19 and there was one tie. The games have been known for their competitiveness, close finishes and sportsmanship. Both Sullivan and Farmington coach Mark Froehling used the word “respectful” in describing the games.

“It’s always been such a great, respectful rivalry,” said Froehling, who is in his 14th year as the Tigers head coach. “Bubba and his staff are good people and they coach the game well, their kids play the game right and we appreciate that. When we compete, both teams want to be respected on the field by the way they play the game. I’m going to miss that. It’s a nice, close opponent and we’ve had a great relationship for a long time.”

Sullivan, who has been leading the Raiders for 25 years, said, “The thing about this rivalry is that it has been unique. I would never call it heated, it’s always been a respectful rivalry. When we made runs in the playoffs, or they did, our players became Farmington fans and their players became Northfield fans. We went to their games and vice versa. In my mind there’s never been any bitternes in this rivalry.”

Friday’s game was, as is the norm, a close, hard-fought contest. A large crowd was on hand on a warm night and the teams never stopped battling. The Raiders drove 80 and 55 yards for touchdowns in the first half, with Preston Robinson running for a 1-yard score and Josiah Bardwell passing to Alex Loftness for a 14-yard touchdown.

An interception by Farmington’s Mason Gaylord set up the Tigers’ first scoring drive of the game; Tyler Van Winkle threw to Jordan DeCroock for a 21-yard touchdown to make it a 14-7 Raiders lead at halftime.

Northfield tied the score midway through the third quarter on the gutsiest call of the night. On fourth and 15 at Northfield’s 35, Vin Winkle threw to Mac Bassett for a touchdown.

The backbreaker came with eight minutes to play when Farmington seneior linebacker Mason Auge grabbed a tipped pass and raced 65 yards for the go-ahead score, setting off delirium on the Tigers sidelines.

“I saw it was tipped and I looked up and I knew it was coming straight to me,” Auge said before wrapping his arms around the Tractor Trophy. “I steady-handed it, made sure I didn’t drop it because I don’t have the best hands, anyway. I just did my best 60-yard dash I could do.”

As the clock ran out, the Tigers didn’t make a mad dash to the Tractor Trophy, which was sitting on a table next to their bench. They met the Raiders at midfield and exchanged handshakes and congratulations on a well-played game.

If this was the end, it was a great way to go out.

“It’s a pretty big rivalry between us,” Auge said. “It means a lot, knowing that Tractor Trophy will stay here now.”

--To see a photo gallery (and video) from the Northfield-Farmington football game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 47
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,828
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
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