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It was one of those bizarre days when there were a lot of intriguing sports events going on in the City of Duluth, defying the icy grip that sure felt like winter. Follow along, and we’ll hit the highlights...
First up, it was Senior Day at the UMD regular season home football game, against Minnesota-Crookston. Now, the Bulldogs were looking for their seventh victory in a row and to secure their annual North championship in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. And Crookston was winless.
Freshman John Larson looks right at home by now, quarterbacking the Bulldogs. Early in the first quarter, he drops back to pass, and fires a high, hard one down the right sideline. As I pan my camera lens to follow the trajectory, there I find No. 13, Jason Balts, standing there all alone. There are no Crookston players in the range of my lens, so Balts catches the pass and takes off, running down the sideline. He passes excited teammates, he passes a group of invited Senior Day guests on the sideline, and he passes the entire danceline, before reaching the end zone to complete am 81-yard touchdown play.
It is easily the longest touchdown scored by the Bulldogs this season. But it’s not the only one. Anthony Wood and Larson trade rushing attempts, and Wood goes six on first and goal from the 7, so they give it to Wood again for the touchdown and a 16-0 lead. Next, Larson keeps it himself and runs 19 yards for a 24-0 lead.
Finally, UMD stalls, so Dan Branger kicks a 33-yard field goal with 2 seconds left until halftime, and it’s 27-0 - halfway to becoming 54-6, although Crookston’s six in the fourth quarter on a fumble return snaps UMD’s try for a national record fourth straight shutout.
This one’s in the bag, so I take off, hustling from Malosky Stadium to Public Schools Stadium in hopes of catching the end of St. Scholastica’s final game, against MacMurray. When I get there, it’s 14-14, but after trying to find a parking place, it’s halfway through the fourth quarter and MacMurray leads 28-26.
The Saints are pretty good at winning at home, even if it means pulling one out in the final minutes. So this one looks pretty good, but I’m outside the stadium on far side from the entrance, when I pause to watch through the fence because the Saints are driving down the field for what I presume will be the go-ahead touchdown. They reach the MacMurray 26 when the crowd lets out a collective groan. Laquarius Davis from MacMurray has picked up a fumble and races down the right sideline, eluding all Saints and scoring a touchdown to make it 34-26.
Desperation time now for the Saints. But Zach Edwards has already thrown two touchdown passes to Aaron Olson, and he’s connected for 318 yards on 26 for 48 passes, with 12 of them for 200 yards to Olson. So after the ensuing kickoff, Edwards drops back, looks to his right, and flings pass No. 49. Intercepted! Amazingly, St. Scholastica gets the ball back one more time, and Edwards drops back again, firing pass No. 50 for the day -- intercepted again!
The Saints season ends with the 34-26 loss, and I’m astounded that while I’m peering through the fence I see their chance for victory dissolve in a long fumble recovery touchdown, and two interceptions in a row.
It’s already 4 p.m., and that happens to be the time both the UMD volleyball team plays Sioux Falls, and the UMD women’s hockey team plays St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs had to work to win the Friday game, 3-2 on an overtime goal by Katerina Mrazova, and I missed it because of the volleyball conflict Friday night. So why do they have another conflict between the two teams at 4 p.m. Saturday? Who knows?
I head to AMSOIL Arena to catch the hockey game, and the Bulldogs came through against a suddenly plucky St. Cloud State outfit. Emma Yanko scored in the first period, and Ashton Bell and Jessica Healey made it 3-0 after two, but the Huskies came back for goals by Abby Thiessen and Julia Tylka to suddenly make it 3-2. It took an empty-net goal by Naomi Rogge, her sixth of the season, to secure a 4-2 victory.
I’m pretty hungry by then, but there’s still one more potential game awaiting. I dash back out to Public Schools Stadium because St. Scholastica is playing Wisconsin-Superior in the UMAC men’s soccer playoff championship. The winner gets an automatic NCAA Division III berth.
It is an outstanding game, one of those that soccer-haters might have appreciated because of all the action. The Saints get a 1-0 lead when Juan Ochoa got free in dangerous territory, just as the ball popped free to him with the goalkeeper down. Ochoa put it away and the Saints had a 1-0 halftime lead.
However, UWS battled back, and Elliott Chapman scored the tying goal. The 1-1 tie stood through two overtime periods, and the teams went to a penalty-kick shootout. Back and forth it went, and those penalty kicks give the goalkeeper little or no chance with such a big net. The Yellowjackets were leading 3-2, with one more round to go. The keeper gambled as Leonardo Paredes stepped up to shoot, diving toward the right post. Alas, Paredes shot to the left side, and his deception earned the Yellowjackets a 4-2 clinching edge in the shootout and a 2-1 victory in the game.
By winning, UWS gets the chance to go down to St. Paul for their first-ever NCAA match, and they face St. Thomas on Saturday. The Tommies are huge favorites. But this is a tenacious and competitive UWS outfit.
What a day it was! Football, football, hockey, and soccer. Why choose just one?