The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 1, 2012

Courrier column: Online or in town, plenty of football to follow

MANKATO — The Internet is a wonderful tool for research and entertainment, and a good way to spend brainless hours wasting time.

But on a beautful Saturday, stuck in a press box at Todnem Field, the laptop provided a wonderful venue for keeping track of what was going on with Mankato football, past and present.

Down south, Minnesota State was having a shootout with Wayne State. The unbeaten Mavericks scored the first 21 points, then Wayne State answered with 21.

Former Mankato East linebacker Isaac Kolstad provided the biggest jolt when he intercepted a pass on the last play of the second quarter and returned it 60 yards for a 35-21 lead.

Former Mankato West running back Andy Pfeiffer had an early rushing touchdown, then scored on a pass in the fourth quarter that provided the winning margin.

Todnem Field was agog with the exploits of former Scarlets quarterback Philip Nelson, who had a spectacular first half in the University of Minnesota’s 44-28 victory over Purdue at the home stadium. Nelson completed 15 of 17 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns, and he rushed for 30 yards as the Gophers went up 34-7 at halftime.

It didn’t matter that Nelson didn’t complete a pass in the second half, and he ran for only 7 yards, it was a time for celebration at the alma mater, eager for any updates brought on by a Twitter deluge of Nelson information.

Then there was the game being played that day at Todnem Field. No need for the Internet; there was quite a bit of drama at the stadium.

West looked nervous early, with a fumble, couple of drops, some poor throws, leaky blocking and a breakdown on defense. New Prague showed up as a different team than the one that got spanked 35-0 by the Scarlets in the season-opener, and it was obvious early that West would need to show some resolve to get back into the game, let alone win it.

A diving catch by Connor Watts provided a spark just before halftime that led to West’s first score, but the Scarlets still trailed at the break, with New Prague getting the ball to start the third quarter.

The key play had nothing to do with West’s performance as a bad snap flew over the New Prague punter, who stumbled awkwardly after the football, outraced by a couple of Scarlets. Finally, Trenton Marks picked up the football inside the 5 and ran into the end zone, allowing fans, players and coaches to finally exhale now that West had the lead.

There were plenty more key plays and outsanding efforts, and by the end, the Scarlets had claimed a tough, physical victory, answering any questions about this team’s ability to play that way.

As several West seniors lingered on the field, at least a half-hour after the bleachers had emptied, it was clear how much football has come to mean to this community.

A quarterback in the Big Ten, a couple key players at an undefeated Division II program, former East linebacker Alex Means at Air Force, Division III standouts across the state ... it would have been hard to imagine this level of skill from local football players 20 years ago.

Which was OK because there was no opportunity to sit in the press box, keeping track of everything on the Internet.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353 or email at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChadCourrier.

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