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If the first weekend after school started in high school and college was any indication, we’re not going to be hurting for entertainment in the Duluth area. And if you do get weary from running around to different venues, you can always click on the satellite and watch some more compelling sports. Among the highlight last weekend:
• It didn’t matter that the Two Harbors at Esko football game was one of the most ragged, mistake-filled contests of the year. In the final count, I think that Esko had the edge in turnovers with seven, but it was very close. It was 0-0 when Joey Marker took off on a 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter for a 7-0 Two Harbors lead. Cole Komarek made it 13-0 in the third quarter, and Esko appeared out of it. But Mason Vinje relieved the injured Aaron Moore at quarterback and threw a touchdown pass to Eli Blue in the third quarter and to Preston Lowe in the fourth and it was 13-12. The Agates were forced to punt, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave them a first down, and with 1:08 left, Joey Marker broke through the Eskomos line and scored a 19-yard touchdown to clinch a 19-12 victory. Sloppy or not, it was exciting at the finish. And the highlight of the night was the tribute to Davis Helberg, a lifelong Esko athletic booster, and former Port Authority boss who is a recovered reporter at the Duluth News Tribune -- a teammate of mine when I started my career there -- and currently writing books in his colorful, eloquent style. Davis is fighting against a nasty form of lung cancer right now, and he said he is working on another book of memoirs, but his current status “gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘deadline.’ ”
• The UMD volleyball team came home having dropped from No. 1 to No. 6 in the Division II national rankings, but they played a spotlight match against Bemidji State at AMSOIL Arena and won 25-19, 25-14, 25-14. UMD coach Jim Boos showed great class when he said, “Bemidji had to replace its setter with freshman Mary Campbell, and when you lose the rhythm of a good setter it’s really tough to look smooth.” Sarah Kelly led a balanced UMD attack with 12 kills, while Makenzie Morgen had 9 and Hanna Meyer and Abby Thor 7 each. Before the match, NSIC commissioner Erin Lind presented the Sanford Health Raymond Awards to UMD’s top two senior athletes — foortball wide receiver Jason Balts, who has a 3.9 grade point average, and Morgen, who has a 4.0.
• Saturday afternoon, if you caught the highlights on TV, the Gophers outlasted Fresno State 21-14 when defensive star Antoine Winfield was beaten but recovered to make a leaping end-line interception with a minute to go to preserve the victory.
• Sunday was one of those special TV days. The Vikings held off San Francisco 24-16, and new quarterback Kirk Cousins looked good, particularly early, when he dropped a couple of impressive touchdown passes out of the sky for Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Cousins was 20-36 for 244 yards and two touchdowns. It was a good show, but the television highlights were still to come.
• Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos held great interest because the proven elite leadership of Russell Wilson would be challenged by the emerging stardom of Case Keenum, let go by the Vikings to the Broncos. Fantastic game, back and forth down to the wire. Wilson was 19-33 for 298 yards and three touchdowns for Seattle, which wrested the late lead 24-20, but Keenum was brilliant, going 25-39 for 329 yards and three touchdowns, the third of which gave Denver a 27-24 victory.
• Simultaneous to the Seahawks-Broncos game was the live men’s final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, where Novak Djokovic defeated Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 6-3, 7-6, 6-3. The second set, decided by a tie-breaker, took over an hour and featured some of the best power and technical tennis in the history of the game.
• Of course, the big story from the U.S. Open was brilliant Naomi Osaka, a 20-year-old half Japanese, half Haitian, who defeated Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4. Williams, the best women’s player ever, had a hat trick of controversies in the second set. She seemed puzzled, and looked up at her coach in the box seats, and he gestured to her. The chair umpire saw it all, and gave her a warning of the no-coaching rule. Serena flew into a rage and yelled at the umpire that she had never cheated and she wasn’t being coached, although her coach later said he had been coaching her, and that everybody does it. Williams continued to steam, until she then threw her racquet down so hard it shattered. Calmly, the chair umpire informed Williams she was being penalized a point because losing it, either verbally or physically, qualified as the second of the three progressions of penalized infractions. Serena then boiled over, raging at the chair ump that she had been cheated out of a point and demanding an apology. For that tirade, the chair umpire calmly issued a one-game penalty. That meant that instead of trailing 3-4 in the second set, Williams was down 3-5. She rallied briefly, but Osaka prevailed and won her first Open.
• When all that was over, we still had the Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers game on ESPN Sunday night. The amazing Bears led 17-0, and Aaron Rodgers had gone out with a knee injury in the first quarter. He came back in the second half, but Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears led 20-3 after three quarters. Playing without being able to step firmly on his leg was nothing Rodgers couldn’t overcome, and he threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to close the deficit to 20-17. Trubisky led the Bears on an impressive march that ran out of steam, and it was fourth and 2 at the Packers 12, with 2:39 remaining. It mattered not to me who won, except that for the Vikings sake, it would be better if the Packers absorbed a loss. So I calmly said, “Go for it,” to the TV. My thought was that if the Bears make the first down, they are at the 10, or so, and can run out the clock and maybe score a clinching touchdown. In my mind, the only way the Bears could blow that 20-17 lead was to fumble, throw an interception, or kick a field goal. A field goal is worth 3, and would make it 23-17, but it also leaves Aaron Rodgers two minutes to win the game with a touchdown. The Bears kicked a field goal, going up 23-17, and leaving over 2 minutes for Rodgers. Bang, bang, bang, Rodgers hit a couple of passes, then hits Randall Cobb over the middle, and Cobb takes off to turn it into a 75-yard touchdown that tied the game. Placekick, and the Packers win 24-23 behind three fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Aaron Rodgers. Incredible. The Vikings are at Green Bay on Sunday.