It’s been 14 years since I hung up my whistle and clipboard as the head football coach at Stillwater Area High School, but I haven’t forgotten the agony of defeat. I can certainly relate to the Ponies’ 35-34 upset overtime loss at home to a feisty Hastings team last Friday night.
When I was coaching, I would stay up all night after a loss — and that occurred 69 times in my career, while those two ties didn’t help my insomnia either.
The feeling is like stepping off the 49th floor into a pool of bat guano. It’s not good.
Since I retired, Ponies losses are not causing me a loss of sleep like in the old days, but they are annoying. This loss was disturbing because it was totally unexpected — or even remotely imagined. I know well what coach Beau LaBore and his staff and team felt like all weekend, but remember, it’s a temporary setback.
While I was leaving the parking lot, someone asked me if a team ever came back on us like that?
“You bet,” I responded.
Flashback to that 22-21 loss to state champion Apple Valley in the 1986 state semifinals after leading them 21-0 in the third quarter. A field goal with no time left settled that one and the Eagles crushed Osseo 35-6 for state gold at the Metrodome a week later.
That was 26 years ago, so you would think I would be over it by now. Even at age 74, it looks like I’ll never get over it — but I’m over the other 68 losses.
Let’s face it, the Ponies have an excellent football team and LaBore’s program is headed in the right direction. The Ponies have a highly productive offense and a bend-but-don’t-break defense so consider the Hastings loss for what it is — a temporary setback.
Needless to say, I woke up at 3 a.m., and started running things through my mind (jogging might be a better descriptions). The Big Red looked crisp and totally took charge in the first half, but Hastings flashed glimpses that they might be a better team that I thought.
The Ponies ran that into a 28-0 lead early in the third quarter, led by tough-nosed running back Zach Knox, who rushed for 250 yards and four touchdowns on 36 attempts in the game.
Trevor Tillett hit Matt Anderson with a 31-yard scoring strike to start the scoring off.
Momentum raised its ugly head as Hastings outscored the Ponies 28-7 in the second half, knotting the score at 28-all. Raiders quarterback Brandon McCarthy figured in each touchdown while racking up 478 of his team’s 526 yards of total offense. Wow!
McCarthy saved his best for last, leading the Raiders on a 99-yard scoring drive in the closing seconds as he found Zach Wiese with a scoring pass from 5 yards out. Mike Junker then ran in for two points for the Raiders to force the overtime.
Stillwater scored quickly, with Knox crossing the alumni stripes from 6 yards out. A failed PAT try put the locals in jeopardy. McCarthy continued his fine act by running to paydirt from the 7 and Jonah Harrington’s kick gave Hastings its upset victory.
The good guys (3-1) must put this setback behind them and prepare for a victory over Mounds View on its home turf tomorrow night.
Defeat is never final unless the loser despairs.
After the Hastings loss, teams remaining on our schedule see blood in the water and will attack like sharks, but Stillwater has too much sand for that to happen.
Everybody should wear red to Mounds View (3-1) tomorrow night as two fine teams lock horns.
Here is this week’s prep football Thole Poll: 1. Eden Prairie (4-0); 2. Tonka (4-0); 3. East Ridge (4-0); 4. Wayzata (2-1); 5. Andover (4-0); 6. Maple Grove (4-0); 7. Lakeville North (4-0); 8. Stillwater (3-1); 9. Mounds View (3-1); 10, tie, Hutch (4-0) and Rosemount (3-1).
In the huddle
I’ll bet you old geezers remember how we used to occupy every vacant lot we could find for our youth athletic activities? Because these activities occurred during the daytime hours, while mom and dad were at work or taking care of the house, parental involvement was at a minimum. Rides to and from play areas were not necessary because all were within walking distance. In fact, school busses were literally unheard of in the inner city areas because the schools were all neighborhood schools, making busing unnecessary. Youth coaches would tell their charges what time to be at a given area at a given time. Support from parents consisted mainly of making available to their children tools of the trade like bats and balls, baseball gloves, footballs, etc., while encouraging them to be involved. Parental involvement as spectators in their children’s sporting events came later as their youngsters moved into their high school years. Times change, as they always have…. For your information, Stillwater’s starting offensive line averages 254 pounds per man. Tackles Peter Palecek (305 pounds) and Joe Knaap (305) lead the way with guards Nick Brevitz (255) and Cal Rorabeck (215), center Oliver O’Keefe (220) and junior tight end Matt Anderson (225) filling out the list. In their recent 21-7 victory over Cretin-Derham Hall, SAHS ran 23 plays at the Raiders star junior defensive end Jashon Cornell and 15 of those were rushes that gained 82 yards and a touchdown…. I thought
that this year’s SCVAA Hall of Fame banquet that celebrated the induction of Molly (Miller) Casey, Duane Mutschler, George Hoeppner and the late Don Buege, Sr., moved along nicely. Included among the honorees were past achievers Jim Ratte, Bob Bliss, Kevin Meinke, Dorothy (Simonet) Kilty, Gerhard Riebe, Jim Doe, Dean Anderson, Mary Blickenderfer, Jim O’Brien, Jim McLaughlin, Howard Hanson and Dan “Digger” Carlson. It was great sitting at the banquet with former all-state running back Kurt Gunning of the 1986 Ponies (11-2, conference and section champs) — yes, the same year as that painful Apple Valley loss at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis. Gunner, who is suffering from a serious ailment, looked fine and was in good spirits. Kurt played for the NDSU Bison and lives in Fargo with his lovely wife Vanessa and children…. That was a solid 43-24 win for the Gophers over a decent San Jose State team (1-2) on Saturday at TCF Stadium. After finishing their nonconference schedule 4-0, the Gophers host Iowa (3-1) on Saturday for homecoming. Mitch Leidner of Lakeville South proved to be a bullish runner in his first start at quarterback, rushing for 151 yards and four touchdowns. I would like to see SJSU quarterback David Fales, who was 22 for 35 for a pair of perfect — and I mean really perfect — TD passes. I would like to see him playing for the Vikings. That doesn’t mean I’m blaming Christian Ponder for that upset 31-27 loss to bottom feeder Cleveland on Sunday. The Browns third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer proved to be formidable for the Vikings defense in his first start. Maybe the Vikings have a coaching problem, after all, they get big bucks to coach and inspire the team. Do they look inspired to you? Let’s quit blaming Ponder…. Give your best and don’t sweat the rest…. finis
Today’s rumination #635
The most wasted day is one in which we have not laughed.
• • • •
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