Larry Thompson has been coaching football in Lakeville for nearly four decades. He has seen the school district go from serving a village and farm families to an area of such growth that eight years ago a second high school opened -- South to go with North.
Thompson elected to take the football job at the new South High. North and South both have had success and one of the metro's best rivalries has developed.
North beat South in the season opener on the Labor Day weekend, a silly bit of scheduling that reduced the traditional crowd of 9-10,000 for the battle of the Lakevilles to about half that. There's always the chance the Lakevilles will meet again in the playoffs.
South bounced back impressively in Week 2, upsetting Wayzata 24-14. On Friday night, the Cougars were attempting to continue the recovery from the opening loss with a South Suburban home game against Eagan.
The game was tied late at 17-17 and Eagan looked as if it was going to be forced to punt from deep in its territory. Thompson started mulling the Cougars' options and recalled the twist in the rulebook that allows the team making a fair catch to have a free kick at a field goal.
"I've never seen it in my years of coaching, but I was reminded about the field goal option a couple of years ago,'' Thompson said. "As coaches, we get a memo every year on rule changes. There was one that if the kicking team roughs a player signalling for a fair catch, the 15-yard penalty will be marched off and the field goal try can be made from that spot.''
As Eagan was running its offensive series, Thompson went to Jim Knutson -- "the only coach on the staff older than me,'' Larry said -- to make sure he was right about the field goal try addendum to the fair catch rule. Knutson confirmed this.
"So, I went to our punt returners and said, 'No matter what; we want a fair catch,' '' Thompson said. "And then I was shouting, 'Get the kickoff team ready.' The players were looking at me strangely, and a couple started shouting, 'Get the kickoff tee ... he wants the kickoff tee.'
"We had told Brendan Boche, our kicker, what was going on, but there still was a lot of confusion. Mark Ruhl made the fair catch, but there still was confusion. We didn't have any timeouts left and it was almost a panic situation.
"We were waving the kickoff team out there. One of our junior lineman on that team said, 'I don't know what the hell's going on, but OK.' ''
The opponents are required line up at least 10 yards distant from where the ball is placed, as if is receiving a kickoff. In high school competition, a field goal try that doesn't reach the end zone can be returned. If it reached the goal line but doesn't go through the posts, it's a touchback.
Boche wasn't exactly sure what Thompson wanted.
"At first, Brendan lined up for a three-step run from the side, to put the ball inside the 10,'' Larry said. "We said, 'No, run up like a kickoff.' Brendan said, 'What do you want?' and I said, 'You just worry about putting it through the goal posts.' ''
Most of Thompson's assistants didn't know what was going on. In the stands, the Lakeville fans were looking at Vicki Thompson as if her husband finally had lost it after years as one of Minnesota's most-successful high school coaches.
And then Boche took his free kick, and banged it through the goal posts, to give Lakeville South a 20-17 lead ... and soon that was the final score.
The information passed along for Saturday's Star Tribune was that the winning field goal was 55 yards. "That would be our 45 and I just looked at it on tape and it wasn't that deep,'' Thompson said Saturday. "It looks like the kick came from about the 39. That would make it a 49-yarder. Brendan has a strong leg, and he knocked it through with quite a few yards to spare.
"It was a lot of fun, even if not many people knew what was going on. Rick Sutton, the Eagan coach, was one who did know. He told me after the game that he was aware of the field goal option.''
I found this explanation for the "fair catch kick'':
- After the punt, the receiving team tells the referee that a fair catch kick is about to be attempted.
- The ball is placed at the spot of the fair catch. It can be placed on a tee or held by one of the kicker’s teammates.
- The defense must line up at least 10 yards back from the spot of the kick. No defensive player may advance from that spot until the ball is kicked.
- The kicker attempts to kick the ball through the uprights. If successful, the kick is worth three points. If the ball falls short of the uprights but stays inbounds, it is a live ball and may be recovered by either team and advanced.