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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/17/2013 12:40:47 PM

ROGERS – There were plenty of good reason for me to be at Rogers High School on Wednesday evening in the final week of the football regular season. Reason No. 1 was the Class 5A game between the fourth-ranked Royals and fifth-ranked St. Michael-Albertville; both came in unbeaten. The winner would not only claim the Mississippi 8 Conference championship but would secure the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the Section 6 playoffs. Bonus: It was the only game in the state on Wednesday between undefeated teams.

Reason No. 2 had less to do with the now and more to do with the then. In this case, “then” being 10 years ago this fall, when Rogers High School opened its doors for the first time and the football team was the first to compete for the Royals.

Wednesday’s game lived up to the billing, with Rogers coming back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the score 31-31 on a 41-yard field goal by Isaac Aanerud on the final play of regulation. The Royals had the ball first in overtime, scored on a 6-yard run by Jake Owens and kicked the extra point for a 38-31 lead.

St. Michael-Albertville also scored in two plays, with Chris Kartes running in from the 1, and then went for a two-point conversion and the win. A pass was incomplete and Rogers took home a wild and memorable 38-37 victory.

Now, thinking back … it was Aug. 8, 2003, when the Royals played host to the Zimmerman Thunder on a Thursday night. Both schools were new that year, both spinoffs from Elk River High School. The stadium at Rogers hasn’t changed much in 10 years, although there were no bleachers on the visitors sideline in 2003. Back then,fans were trying to learn the school songs, lawn chairs were a common sight, there were no returning starters and neither school had a senior class.

Zimmerman hung on to defeat Rogers 13-10 in the inaugural game. I was there in 2003 and I was back on Wednesday. My how things have changed. Open for a decade in an area that has experienced major growth, Rogers High School now has 1,251 students and an outstanding football tradition.

The Royals were the Class 4A state runner-up in 2010 and advanced to the state quarterfinals in 2011. This year’s team will take an 8-0 record into the postseason, receiving a first-round bye in the Section 6 playoffs. The Royals will play at home on Oct. 26 against the winner of Tuesday’s game between Monticello and Elk River.

St. Michael-Albertville also received a bye and will host the winner of the first-round game between Willmar and Buffalo on Oct. 26.

There were many stars in Wednesday’s game. Rogers quarterback Connor Henderson passed for 226 yards and two touchdowns. He also engineered a 67-yard drive that began with 55 seconds left in regulation and ended with the tying field goal. Kartes and Nate Weber each scored two TDs for the Royals and St. Michael-Albertville’s Andrew Winans returned an interception 56 yards for a score midway through the fourth quarter.

After the 2003 Zimmerman-Rogers game, my story for the Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted Royals coach Marc Franz saying: “We'll watch the film and hopefully we'll learn from this. Kids are resilient. They're not going to be down. This is one game. This is a starting point.”
Franz remains the only head football coach in Royals history. Before Wednesday’s game, he and I chatted about that 2003 game. After the game, he smiled as he thought back to that experience.
“I remember that night and I remember talking to you afterwards, and I was literally speechless because I was so exhausted,” he said. “The opening of the school and trying to get the program up and running, it was so new. After that first game I was just totally spent. I remember I couldn’t even form a sentence for you because I was exhausted.

“At that time, I don’t think I had a vision other than, ‘Let’s get through this moment.’ It was so hectic. But ultimately, in the back of your head, this (Wednesday’s game) is what high school athletics are about.”

Indeed, it was special, a back-and-forth game in front of packed stands on a chilly October night under a bright moon. Before kickoff, fans waited in a long line for burgers that were being cooked on a giant grill as smoke wafted over the pregame warm-ups. During the hectic moments late in the fourth quarter, another cloud billowed over the field; a cloud of baby powder sent skyward as the Rogers student section squeezed bottles of the stuff and covered themselves in it.
“You saw the way St. Michael traveled,” Franz said. “We have just a great rivalry with them. They are a phenomenal football team and a classy coaching staff. I couldn’t even envision a better way to end the regular season.

“This was a great high school football game. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

--To see photos from the game between St. Michael-Albertville and Rogers, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 81
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 4,153
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn


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