The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

September 27, 2013

Sometimes, going to work can be blessing

There have been many blessings in life.

A lovely, intelligent and understanding wife. Two beautiful daughters who only occasionally spike the blood pressure. A golf game that’s better than most peers.

And a job that, while not as lucrative as it once was, rarely puts any body parts in jeopardy of injury.

The job also sometimes provides up-close access to games and athletes at their finest, which has been the case during the last couple of weeks. For the few people who were privileged to witnessed both the high-school football game between Mankato West and Owatonna, followed by the college game between Minnesota State and Minnesota Duluth, you understand.

A high-school football game is a special event, almost regardless of the quality of the teams competing. It’s one of the few occasions that brings a school and community together, enjoying a couple of hours under the stadium lights, loudly encouraging the local lads, who despite their flaws, give the effort you wish you saw from players at every level.

Throw in the hype surrounding the Week 3 game between Mankato West and Owatonna, and there’s a chance for something special.

Which is what happened.

The first state polls had just been released, and Owatonna, coming off a state runnerup finish in 2012 and a pair of easy victories, was No. 1 in Class AAAAA, followed by the Scarlets. The anticipation was that Owatonna would try to dominate with its punishing ground game, while West would counter with quick strikes from quarterback Ryan Schlichte and his quick receivers.

Funny thing ... this wasn’t the Owatonna team of past successful seasons. The Huskies were an efficient passing team, with some top-notch receivers. And West showed some ability to run with power.

An early turnover hurt West and allowed Owatonna to score first, but the Scarlets were up 14-7 at halftime. Owatonna changed tactics in the second half, running the ball between the tackles, to go up 21-14, but West answered with the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.

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