By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
— Aaron Keen has seen just about everything in his 15 years as an assistant coach or head coach at the college level but on Saturday he’s going to experience something unique on the football field.
When Minnesota State takes on Valdosta State in its 2 p.m. NCAA Division II semifinal matchup at Blakeslee Stadium, the game will be broadcast online at ESPN3.com. That means the coaches will have an opportunity to challenge calls by the officials because replay will be available.
“I’ve never had to deal with that before,” Keen said Wednesday during a post-practice press conference. “I’m thinking about just throwing my flag on the first play of the game and getting it over with.”
Keen has not had the conference call with the officiating crew yet so he’s not sure about the specifics of how the replay process will work. One of the few things he does know is that he will have only one challenge for the entire game.
“I don’t even know if the challenge flags are red or not,” he said. “I’m assuming they are but I’m not sure.”
Another assumption Keen is making is that the officials will have their own ability to review plays with a challenge by a coach. It may just be scoring plays or it may extend beyond that.
Since the coaches are limited to one challenge, Keen will have to be very judicious about using it. The main thing he wants to do is to try to take the emotion out of the situation before throwing his flag.
“You don’t want to get caught up in the moment,” he said. “You need to try to be as objective as possible.”
Keen said here are some players he can trust to be a little less emotional than others. Last week, for example, Adam Thielen made what appeared to be a touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone that the referees said was no good.
“Adam came back to the sideline and told me he thought it was a touchdown,” Keen said. “And from where I was it looked like a touchdown, too. That would have probably been a good time to throw the flag if it had been available.”
While the Mavericks have been a pretty good team for the last few years, Keen will be the first to admit that nobody saw a 13-0 season coming this fall. And looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint just when he realized that something special was happening.
“We’ve had a lot of special moments like dealing with an injury to our starting quarterback or coming back in the Southwest Minnesota State game. I just really haven’t had time to sit back and appreciate it because we’re always preparing for the next game.”
The comeback Keen referred to may have been the turning point. MSU was down by two touchdowns to SMSU with only seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The rallied to tie it up and eventually won in the second overtime by a score of 34-31.
“I think the players would tell you that game gave them a boost of confidence,” Keen said. “I was probably more surprised than they were that we pulled that one out but I think it shows just how close and determined this team really is.”
MSU student distribution of tickets for Saturday’s game takes place at 11:30 a.m. today at Bresnan Arena. There are a limited amount of free tickets available and only one ticket will be issued per MavCard.
The first 1,500 fans through the gate on Saturday will receive an MSU Touchdown Towel.
College student tickets, as well as all other tickets to Saturday’s game, may also be purchased at msumavericktickets.com. Ticket prices are $15 for reserved seats; $10 for general admission; $5 for senior citizens and youth general admission; and $3 for college students.
If you need accessible seating send an email to email@example.com or call 507-389-6111.
Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. He can be reached at 344-6381 or at firstname.lastname@example.org