When the final seconds ticked off at Ordean Stadium on Wednesday night and reality began to sink in for the Duluth East football players that their season was over, tears began to flow and reflection set in about a one-of-a-kind season.
An escalation in COVID-19 cases caused Duluth Superintendent John Magas on Tuesday to place a moratorium on athletics beginning next Wednesday, one day before the Greyhounds’ scheduled Section 7AAAAA semifinal game.
That meant Wednesday night’s 27-22 victory over Cloquet was the last game of this abbreviated campaign for East (5-1).
“Right now there’s definitely a lot of emotions flying,” said Simon Randorf, an East senior tight end and outside linebacker. “We knew what we had to do and we knew we weren’t going down without a fight. I couldn’t ask for a better group of brothers to do this with.
“I left everything on the field. I’m thankful for the season that we got. This brought a whole different type of brotherhood together, nothing like I’ve ever seen on any team that I’ve been a part of.”
His coach agreed.
“These kids, especially the seniors, (with football) get a little bit of semblance of what normalcy looks like in the school year,” Joe Hietala said. “They get to be around their friends and play football — the game they love and enjoy — and I do think they got closer than a team that wouldn’t have to go through circumstances like this.”
That camaraderie might make 2020 — a year many hope to forget as soon as possible — a memorable one for the Greyhounds.
“I’ll never forget this year,” Randorf said. “Even with everything crazy happening, it’s been a blessing.”
Sophomore running back Austan Orvedahl ran for 275 yards on 21 carries and scored three touchdowns as East, which sprinted to a 20-0 halftime lead, held on to close the season with its fifth consecutive win.
“I felt bad for our seniors that it had to end this way, but we played our hearts out tonight and it was good to end on a win for them,” Orvedahl said.
After Aaron DeBeir gave East a 6-0 lead with a 4-yard touchdown on its first drive, Orvedahl took a pitch midway through the second quarter and sprinted 53 yards down the left sideline for a 12-0 advantage.
Orvedahl scored again from 28 yards out with 26.1 seconds left in the half, pushing him over 200 yards rushing and giving his team an 18-0 lead.
The Greyhounds added two more points when a high punt snap sailed out the back of the end zone with 2.1 ticks left on the clock.
Cloquet (3-3) made a valiant comeback in the second half, using an Alec Turnbull 7-yard pass to Marshall Hayes on fourth-and-goal to cut the gap to 20-6 and then Alex Petersen returned a kickoff 92 yards following Orvedahl’s third TD to make it 27-14 with 9:25 left to play.
Hayes scored again inside the final minute, but the Lumberjacks were unable to recover a second straight onside kick to end the game and finish the regular season on a three-game losing skid.
“It’s a good feeling to end the season with a win,” East coach Joe Hietala said.
Hietala had hoped to squeeze in one Section 7AAAAA playoff game before the shutdown began, but that proved unworkable. The 7AAAAA playoff field was reworked with only four teams remaining and semifinals were slated for next Thursday.
“We were hoping to move that up to Tuesday and get one round of the playoffs in, but it doesn’t look like that’s a possibility,” Hietala said.
Hence the postgame reflection by the players, who made it through a season fraught with issues such as contact tracing and social distancing.
“I had to quarantine many different times after being exposed and couldn’t practice, but we made it through and I’m glad we had a season,” Orvedahl said.
Randorf said he wouldn’t change anything since all the challenges made the friendships grow stronger.
“We had to discipline ourselves for sure,” Randorf said. “We just stuck with each other and did not go out with other people that aren’t a part of the team. That’s what brought us together even more.”
“Our teammates were all we had,” Orvedahl said. “We couldn’t go to school so it was just the football boys. They were my family.”
Duluth East 6-14-0-7—27
DE — Aaron DeBeir 4 run (kick blocked)
DE — Austan Overdahl 53 run (pass failed)
DE — Overdahl 28 run (run failed)
DE — Safety, ball snapped out of end zone
C — Marshall Hayes 7 pass from Alec Turnbull (pass failed)
DE — Overdahl 2 run (Tanek Kittilson kick)
C — Alex Petersen 92 kickoff return (Jack Sorenson run)
C — Hayes 6 run (Sorenson run)