It was with the anticipation that something special might happen that my son Eric Thole ’84 and I boarded a bus along with Stillwater’s Neal ’69 and Betty Johnston in Lake Elmo on Friday, Nov. 16 at 6 a.m.
There we hooked up with Steve and Dorothy Erban of Creative Charters and headed on our 400-mile bus ride to Lincoln, Neb., for the Gophers vs. Huskers football game.
I always wanted to see a game at the famed and always sold out Memorial Stadium. I had the opportunity to speak there once, but I was in Norway at the time so that was a major hurdle.
After arriving in the Land of Tall Corn and taking in a few Gophers events, I got to see a few friends from the past, including some gridiron types. The Huskers fans love their team and fill that stadium (85,000 or so) with a sea of red every game day.
We had a few others from Stillwater that we came across, including Chris Bahl, Teresa Grim, Mike Redmond, Chuck and Drew Lynch — who caught up with former Pony and Nebraska freshman golfer Cassie Deeg while in town — and ace Gazette sportswriter Stu Groskreutz and some of his Concordia College buddies.
On Friday night, the Gophers wrestling team — ranked numero uno in the nation — crushed Nebraska 27-7 and the women’s volleyball squad prevailed 3-2 over their Huskers counterparts. After hitting a fine restaurant and a few select bistros, I was primed for some five-star grid action the following day.
After attending a Minnesota pep rally and touring the Nebraska campus, we headed for the turnstiles. Let me say right off that the performance of Goldy and the Gophers cheerleaders and band were the highlights for me.
Freshman quarterback Phil Nelson was greeted by a Nebraska defense that overwhelmed his receivers and held him to 8 completions in 23 attempts for a paltry 59 yards and two oskies. He didn’t get much help from MarQueis Gray as he dropped two passes for zero. He has become a non-factor of late.
Taylor Martinez had a solid game for the Huskers, hitting 21 of 29 passes for 308 yards while directing his team to 444 yards. Minnesota managed a scant 177 yards that didn’t produce points until Gray’s two short yardage fourth quarter TDs.
Getting to the point, I felt that the Gophers took a step backward on Saturday — though you can’t expect a first-year quarterback to carry the offense. Once in a while you have to go for it on fourth-and-1, after all, we are 20-point underdogs.
We were down 24-donut at the break and 38-0 at the end of the third quarter. For the longest time, the opponents had more first downs than we did yards rushing. Everyone knows that stuff happens, so let’s move on to Michigan State.
Sparty (5-6) needs a victory over Goldy (6-5) to become bowl eligible on Saturday at TCF. The Gophers have won two Big Ten games each of the past two years so it’s high time we get three to show improvement.
I wonder how much it would cost to get the Nebraska Cornhuskers off our schedule?
High school football
The prep football Thole Poll: 1. Eden Prairie (10-2); 2. Totino-Grace (12-0); 3. Edina (9-2); 4. Wayzata (9-2); 5. Lakeville North (11-1); 6. Owatonna (12-0); 7. Prior Lake (9-2); 8. St. Thomas Academy (10-2); 9. Stillwater (8-2); 10, tie, Hutch (12-0) and Osseo (6-4), which forfeited two games.
Prep Bowl predictions: 6A — Eden Prairie; 5A — Totino-Grace; 4A — Hutch; 3A — Lourdes; 2A — Caledonia; 1A — Mahnomen; Nine-man — Grand Meadow.
In the huddle
Ponies sophomore swimmer Sophia Bisch was among the Prep Athletes of the Week featured in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Nov. 13. Bisch was recognized for winning the 100 breastroke in record time at the Section 4AA meet that the locals dominated. Her winning time was 1:05.81 — and if that wasn’t enough, she swam on the Big Red’s winning 200 medley relay with Claire Rutscher, Kristin Erf and Tiffany Vang. Before the day was over, she won the 200 individual medley and combined with Sammi Potts, Kylie Burgess and Erf to take the 200 free relay. When the smoke cleared, Bisch — along with Rutscher, Burgess and Erf — qualified for state in four events. The Ponies went on to finish sixth at the state meet, with Bisch placing third in the 200 individual medley, fifth in the 200 medley relay with Rutscher, Erf and Knaak, sixth in the 100 breastroke and sixth in the 400 freestyle relay with Burgess, Knaak and Rutscher. Vermont University bound Rutscher placed sixth in the 100 backstroke and Burgess was eighth in the 200 free. Others performing at state were Hannah Sneden, Abby Kunze and divers Liz Click and Morgan Espelien…. Former Ponies cage star Taylor Stippel, a junior on the squad at Michigan Tech, has been named to the preseason All-Great Lakes Athletic Conference women’s basketball team. Stippel scored a career high 18 points against Lake Erie and averaged shooting a crisp 51 percent over the last six games for the Huskies…. Karen and I had an enjoyable evening at Wiederholt’s Supper Club in Miesville last week. I was the guest speaker at the Hastings Youth Football Banquet that drew about 150 enthusiastic people. While in Miesville, I was asked about football today as compared to the days when I cavorted on the gridiron. Then, we were not allowed water during practices, and some guys would carry a lemon in their socks (which we would all share). During games, the managers would bring out a bucket full of water and towels during timeouts. Some players would wipe their faces and throw the towels back in the bucket, and someone else would pick it up and suck the water out of it. I’ve always wondered why some of us are still alive…. Look for Stillwater and Roseville to battle again for the Suburban East Conference title in girls hockey, with Mounds View and White Bear Lake in the hunt. Sara Bustad has signed to play at Minnesota State-Mankato next year. The locals are off to a 1-0-1 start after defeating Blaine 3-1 and playing Cloquet to a 3-all tie. Hannah Okerstrom had a pair of goals and an assist as Hannah Heacox added a goal and pair of assists to the cause against the Bengals. Bustad and Heacox each had a goal and Dana Almquist recorded a goal and assist against the Lumberjacks. The Ponies are currently ranked ninth in the state…. A 7-2 loss to Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Chaska/Shakopee ended the SAHS adapted soccer team’s season at 5-5. It looks to me that we might have been outnumbered. Austin Harjes and Riley Cludy — with an assist from Devin Wildes — scored for the Big Red. Cali Capistrant, Hannah Johnson and Sam Sundgaard also had strong games for the Ponies. Maybe it’s time that someone checks the roster sizes of some of these multiple joint sponsorship teams…. finis
Today’s rumination #593
Do the hard jobs first. The easy ones will take care of themselves.
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George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Thursdays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org