With apologies to Charles Dickens, the boys basketball battle Tuesday, Jan. 15, between the Bulldogs and Wrens at Wrenshall was the best of times and the worst of times, all in the last 10 seconds - for both teams.
With four seconds to play, Wrenshall's Eli Krisak hit an and-one to put the Wrens ahead 50-49. But it wasn't over.
The Bulldogs inbounded the ball and got it to sophomore point guard Spencer Rousseau, who drilled a shot from halfcourt at the buzzer to win the game for Carlton 52-50 - the same score that decided the first meeting between the teams at Carlton. The shot also kept the famed Brown Jug in Carlton's hands.
"What a moment for him," Carlton coach Jeswa Harris said. "He had been having a few confidence issues and to hit a big shot like that to win a Jug game was great for him and for us."
But for Wrenshall, it was pure pain.
"We should have won," Wrenshall coach Jon Bartczak said. "Honestly, we should have. I told the players that (it's tough) in the moment now, but we have to keep working hard."
The loss dropped Wrenshall to 2-8 on the season while Carlton improved to 4-8. Neither team has performed to the level they had hoped, but both coaches were hoping a Jug game win would turn around their season.
"No doubt it can do that," Harris said. "That is the kind of game that can turn around a season. We went to Cromwell (on Jan. 8), played a half with them and got blown out (70-46). We played Two Harbors and they had a very athletic guard drop 57 points on us. We just had to stay with it."
Jayden Ruberg set a school record in that 89-80 win over the Bulldogs, so Harris was looking for a bounceback. And boy, did he get one.
The Wrens led 31-28 at the break but the second half was low-scoring, with the teams combining for only 43 points. Krisak's field goal was his only one of the game, but it inadvertently set up Rousseau's heroics.
The half-court miracle shot was Rousseau's only field goal of the night as well.
As a result, the Wrens now need to find another way.
"There's no good way to say it," Bartczak said. "We aren't the same team we were last year. We aren't going to score 90 points a game to cover up for our defense. I thought we were pretty good there (Tuesday), and we only gave them a couple of good looks. We've been giving up too many good looks lately and when you can't finish on the offensive end, that's a recipe for disaster."
The frustration of the last-second loss is something Bartczak will have to deal with as well. "I told the players at the start of the year that we'll do everything I think we can do to improve, but it starts with effort and we say that every single game. We have to put forth the work and the time in the gym. I think these players are willing to do that."
The Wrens lost their first five games to start the season, but had gone 2-2 in their last four before Tuesday night, including a 64-46 win at Cherry.
"The issue we run into is that if we play a team like Cherry that is a bit down, we overestimate ourselves and still don't do things right," Bartczak said. "We won that game but we didn't look good doing it. That's rough, when we have the potential to be better and don't realize that potential."
The Bulldogs came up with the win despite missing four starters to injury and coaches' decisions. Mathew Santkuyl led the Bulldogs and the floor with 16 points while sophomore Trevor Ojibway had 15. Cole Oja had 15 for the Wrens, with Randy Wimmer adding 11 and Jared Kelley 10 more.
But it's the Bulldogs who go home the happier team.
"We are playing younger guys," Harris said. "We aren't at full strength but the players believe in how they are playing. They knew they had every excuse to lose to Wrenshall and then went out and won. We just want to fight and give ourselves a shot at the end."
But both coaches know that the Jug itself is a powerful incentive and only one team can win it.
"Winning the Jug can redeem or turn around your season, it's that important," Bartczak said. "Winning that one game can make the season a success."
"It gives us a good feeling," Harris said. "We got over the hump of losing, past the pressure of winning the Jug game. We can compete and trust each other."
"What a game," he added. "What a moment for our kids; what a moment for our fans. What a game."