MANKATO - Pat Nelson played football for Wisconsin in the late 1970s. He married Norma Koth, a Madison girl, and the family settled in as devoted fans of the Badgers.

"We had tickets on the 50-yard line for 20 years," Pat said. "Philip grew up in Camp Randall."

Pat Nelson is a mechanical engineer. He took a new job in Mankato in 2005 and the family moved from its beloved Madison.

When he went to work for a different company, it was with the understanding that he would stay in Mankato until his son Philip graduated from high school, then the Nelsons could move back to Madison.

"That was based on the idea Philip would be playing football for the Badgers," Pat said. "Now, we're going to stay here for the next few years."

Philip Nelson is a 6-3 quarterback for Mankato West. He is listed at 216 pounds -- an increase of 20 pounds over his weight during an outstanding junior season.

The added thickness in his legs, arms and shoulders gives him the look of a Big Ten QB. How is he carrying that weight?

"I did so much work on my legs during the offseason ... I'm definitely faster than last year," Philip said.

A year ago, West was eliminated in the Class 4A quarterfinals by Mahtomedi. The conventional wisdom from Mankato sources back then was that Nelson and his family continued to live the dream Philip would play for the Badgers.

How about that, Dad?

Pat Nelson smiled and said, "Philip always was going to look at his options."

There were two factors that put Minnesota strongly in the picture: A) Jerry Kill was hired as the coach; and B) Wisconsin had a commitment from quarterback Bart Houston, a four-star recruit from Concord, Calif.

Kill won over Philip and his father by describing an offense that would take full advantage of Nelson's combination of strong-armed passing and his ability to run.

Another coach won over Philip's mother. Matt Limegrover is the Gophers coordinator and offensive line coach. He introduced himself to Norma, pointed across a room to Philip and said:

"My job is to keep your son from getting hit from his backside."

Norma smiled in recollection of that meeting Saturday and said: "Whenever we see coach Limegrover, he gives me a big hug and I remind him of his promise to protect Philip."

Mankato West was 8-0 and averaged 49.6 points this season. The Scarlets had a first-round bye and were matched with Waconia in the Section 2 semifinals Saturday on West's Todnem Field.

Waconia opened with a failed onside kick. Nelson ran 10 yards on the first play. And then he hit Konor Severns in stride for a 45-yard touchdown. It was 7-0 after 15 seconds.

On the next possession, the Scarlets' Tyler Resner scooted 27 yards for a touchdown. It was 13-0 after 4 1/2 minutes and this had the look of another walkover for Mankato West.

Then, Maxx Williams, Waconia's burly QB, began thundering through tackles, and the Wildcats turned it into a game. Maxx is the son of Brian Williams, the former Gophers and New York Giants center. He's also a Gophers recruit and has become pals with Nelson.

Williams ran for a touchdown and a two-point conversion to cut West's lead to 30-22 in the third quarter. Nelson ran 19 yards for a touchdown to push it to 37-22 with 10:47 to play.

And then Williams found Ryan Mattson open behind the West defense for a 72-yard touchdown. A failed two-pointer left Waconia trailing 37-28.

To make sure it was over, Nelson used his legs to get the ball to midfield on the next possession, then dropped a 49-yard TD pass in Alex Knutson's arms. That made the final 44-28, with Nelson passing for two touchdowns and running for three more, and now West will play host to Hutchinson on Friday in the section final.

There was an emphatic tackle by Williams on Nelson late in the game. That was mentioned to Nelson and he said:

"Maxx got plenty of hits on me today. I'm happy that he's going to be a teammate of mine next year."

Nelson was asked if he has removed the fondness for Badger Red from his system.

"Yes, I'm all Gopher now, and so are my parents," he said. "But my older sister, Meredith, is in school at Madison now. We still have some work to do to completely convert her."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. •