From the Catbird Seat... They did it together, as a teamTo say it’s a frantic week is an understatement. Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s NCAA Division II football semifinal, this week didn’t look nearly as crowded from a personal point of view.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
FLORENCE, ALABAMA – To say it’s a frantic week is an understatement.
Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s NCAA Division II football semifinal, this week didn’t look nearly as crowded from a personal point of view.
Northwest Missouri State’s Jordan Simmons had just scored his second touchdown of the night, staking the visitors to a 13-3 lead over UMD and placing one foot through the door to the national championship game.
However, not only did the Bearcats not get their other foot through the door, the Bulldogs slammed that door shut on the lead foot – which, in a minus-17-degrees windchill, is pretty painful.
Senior running back Brian Hanson of Proctor found the end zone and sophomore quarterback Chase Vogler scampered 34 yards for a touchdown to send the defending national champions back to Missouri with a 17-13 defeat around their necks.
Saturday’s game spoke volumes for the Duluth and UMD community. After the predicted blizzard failed to materialize this far north (thank God for small favors), the community came out to support its team despite brutal cold and wind chills that cut right to the bone.
Despite the game being on television – which meant it would have been the easiest thing in the world to simply stay home – the people came out. They stayed. Eight of them even risked frostbite to take off their shirts and spell “BULLDOGS” on their chests. The things some people do to get on television.
The event provided atmosphere like few others I’ve seen in nearly 30 years behind a microphone. I’ve seen a World Series, a Super Bowl, Final Fours too numerous to count in hockey and basketball, a Stanley Cup final, you name it.
This was as good as any of them. A resilient UMD team playing without four of its top offensive starters lost to injury or suspension put a man-on-man beating on the defending national champs, coming from 10 points down for the first time all season to get that job done.
How on earth can you not be proud of that? How on earth can you not support that?
Perhaps the player I’m happiest for is Hanson, the Proctor grad who entered the season third on the team’s depth chart at running back behind the incomparable Isaac Odim and slashing running back Brad Foss.
He came into his own in the quarterfinals against Augustana, rushing for 124 yards and adding 72 more to that total against the Bearcats – becoming the team’s go-to runner when his team needed him the most.
I had the chance to share a very firm handshake with Brian’s father, Boyd, before Saturday’s game, and I got to remark at how impressed I was with his son. He has been a titan in the playoffs and I don’t think that’s an overstatement.
It’s easy to be proud of this group of players. Yet the thing that ought to make us the most proud is the sense of team that has enveloped this year’s Bulldogs.
Football is all about stepping up and helping your teammate. When Odim went down at mid-season, Foss and Hanson were there to pick up the slack. When D.J. Winfield and Ryan Hayes were suspended, Noah Pauley and Pat Alexander were there to pick up the slack.
When Pauley went down with a season-ending injury, Harrison Andrews, Joe Reichert and Josh Quilling were there to pick up the slack.
They did it together. They did it as a team.
And if they do it against Delta State on Saturday and take home their second national championship in three seasons, they will have done it as a team.
That’s something we can all celebrate.