For football fans, the highlight of the Vikings season is always the games with the Green Bay Packers, although this season, the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions will also present worthy challenges to the Vikings. In fact, in a somewhat irrational moment, I suggested before the start of the season that the Vikings and Packers might both be surprised when the Chicago Bears win the division.
Could happen. The Bears defense is impressive, and now that they have a quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky who can make things happen with exciting regularity, they are definitely a threat.
But the Vikings now lead the division, with a huge game coming up this weekend against the New Orleans Saints in Minneapolis. And while the Twin Cities media continues to gush, properly, about Kirk Cousins, and at the same time rip on poor Case Keenum who is doing great at Denver, the Saints will come to town and show us Drew Brees - their version of the best quarterback in the game.
In case you missed it, Brees threw his 500th touchdown pass last Sunday in Baltimore, then he also threw No. 501. Brees had beaten everybody in the NFL, but he had never beaten Baltimore. The only other quarterbacks who ever threw 500 touchdown passes are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Brett Favre. Brees also leads all NFL quarterbacks in passing yardage.
The way the Saints won, if you haven’t heard, was that Brees and the Saints led 24-17 until Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass with 24 seconds left, and the Ravens were going to go for the tie at 24-23. And why not? Their kicker is Justin Tucker, who trotted onto the field having gone 222-222 in conversions since he came into the league in 2002. This time it went wide right, and the Saints won 24-23.
That came to mind because I also watched the end of the game in England, where the Los Angeles Chargers led Tennessee 20-13, but Marcus Mariota brought the Titans back with a TD pass with 31 seconds left. Ciach Mike Vrabel decided to go for the victory, on a two-point conversion, but Mariota’s pass was deflected at the line and fell incomplete. Titans lose, 20-19. But the announcer couldn’t let up ridiculing Vrabel for the stupid decision, and repeatedly said he should have “taken the tie” and tried to win it in overtime. I hate ties, and I’m all for Vrabel going for the victory. If you kick it and tie, there’s no assurance you’ll even get the ball in overtime. And if you think the conversions, moved back 10 yards, are a cinch, just ask the Baltimore Ravens.
And then we have the Gophers. I hate to be overly cynical, but the Twin Cities media is such homers, they raved with assurance that the Gophers would whip Maryland, and Maryland hammered them 42-13. This was the year the Gophers could beat Iowa, and the Hawkeyes hammered the Gophers 48-31. Finally, a trip to Nebraska, and everybody knows Nebraska is winless, so the Gophers were a cinch. The Cornhuskers crushed the Gophers 53-28. That’s 173 points racked up by four Big Ten opponents, while the Gophers have scored 85, an average loss of 43-21. Next up, Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Give the Gophers a chance against Indiana, and a better chance against Illinois, but hold onto your hats against Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
Fortunately, in the Northland, we have the UMD Bulldogs, who are still undefeated at 8-0 after beating Winona State 37-17 in Winona last Saturday. The Bulldogs stay on the road this weekend, at Minnesota-Crookston, before coming home against Mary.
Thomas More's Da'marco Canty caught a 39-yard touchdown pass, his second of the game, in a 35-0 drubbing of Saint Scholastica in a battle of Saints last Saturday at Public Schools Stadium. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Aaron Olson, who had his string of 21 straight games with a touchdown pass snapped, caught only one pass and was stunned by this hit that led to an ejection for targeting for the Thomas More defender. Photo credit: John Gilbert
We also have the Saint Scholastica Saints, who took time out of their UMAC competition to play Thomas More. Apparently a revised spelling of the Saint named Thomas Moore, this school is in Kentucky, and they also are the Saints, so during this year of transition into NAIA competition, the Thomas More Saints came to Duluth to face the Saint Scholastica Saints.
I headed on out to Public Schools Stadium, because I wanted to get a photo of Aaron Olson, the Esko senior who had caught at least one touchdown pass in 21 consecutive games. Zach Edwards has done a great job finding and hitting Olson with TD passes, but not this time. Thomas More answered the question “Who is Thomas More and why are they naming colleges after him?” by crushing Saint Scholastica 35-0. These guys are no saints. They battered Saint Scholastica with heavy hits, having one player ejected for a vicious hit, and getting so many unsportsmanlike conduct penalties the public address announcer started including it in his announcements: “Tackle by No. 62, (whomever), and that’s his first unsportsmanlike penalty.” Because if you get two, you’re ejected.
One of the penalties was for a helmet to helmet hit to Olson, who spent the rest of the game trying to rid himself of the cobwebs. Tough game for the Saints (our guys) against the Saints (their guys).
Marshall's Baamlak Haugen (3) danced around Chisago Lakes goaltender Dylan Grave and scored her second goal of a 4-0 7A final victory. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Marshall players raced to their teammates to celebrate the school's first state tournament trip in soccer. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Speaking of “football,” it was a great weekend for high school and college soccer. First, East beat Blaine 4-1 to reach the AAA state tournament. Then on Thursday night, in a remarkable doubleheader at East’s Ordean Field, Marshall’s girls team beat Chisago Lakes 4-0 in the 7A final, knocking off top-seeded Cloquet 2-0 and then took out the No. 2 seed in the final.
Baamiak Haugen scored two goals and Victoria Thorson scored on a penalty kick and assited Haugen on her second goal after Marshall had taken a 3-0 first-half lead. That brought about the elation of Marshall’s players celebrating the school’s first-ever state tournament.
Then the Denfeld boys took the field and beat Grand Rapids 3-0 behind Jon Faynik’s two goals and Eric Gibson’s shutout. The Hunters were all over the Thunderhawks, continuing a rich payoff for Duluth area soccer teams and their youth feeder programs.
Denfeld goalkeeper Eric Gibson cleared the ball from danger with a header in the Hunters' 3-0 Section 7A soccer victory over Grand Rapids. Photo credit: John Gilbert