The Lumberjacks football team may have lost the Minnesota Class AAAA state championship game to Holy Angels Academy on Friday, but they won the hearts of their fans by playing with guts and talent through all 13 games this fall.
The undefeated team headed south to Minneapolis on Friday with a police escort. Two rooter buses and many, many cars followed them to U.S. Bank stadium, leaving the city of 12,111 residents a virtual ghost town on Black Friday.
Coach Tom Lenarz said the whole experience was wonderful: watching the kids play at U.S. Bank stadium, winning their first game there and, yes, the fans.
"The thing I will never forget is when they introduced Cloquet, the roar from the crowd," he said. "To see all those people from two-plus hours away. It gave me goosebumps and it still does. It's too bad they couldn't hear it the way the kids and I did."
It wasn't only Cloquet students and their parents at the game. Alumni and parents of alumni came. Esko families made the drive. People who moved away after graduation attended. Even the brother of a player on the 1976 team — the last Cloquet team to make it to the Prep Bowl — came from Eagan.
Assistant Cloquet High School principal Steve Battaglia said the school sold around 950 tickets for the championship game, after selling 850 for the semifinal game. However, a quick and unofficial analysis of the Cloquet section appears to put total sales at closer to 2,500 people at U.S. Bank stadium supporting the Lumberjacks. Not bad for a small northern Minnesota town with a great football team.
"The number of fans was phenomenal," said Ruth Reeves, community education director.
Editor's note: Find game coverage and more in Sports.