MORA, MINN. - The Rum River starts at Lake Mille Lacs and meanders for 148 miles before connecting with the Mississippi River at Anoka. The Rum has been enough of a landmark in east-central Minnesota that an athletic conference carried its name for more than 60 years.
The last vestiges of this historic conference are being played out this fall on high school football fields in Mora, Milaca, Foley and Zimmerman.
Mora and Milaca are original members.
"There are people who say it goes back to the '30s," said Gary Gauffin, Mora's athletic director. "I went through our records, though, and the earliest I can confirm the Rum River Conference is 1945."
Foley joined the Rum River in the fall of 1969. Zimmerman, a product of Elk River's division into three high schools, is a short-termer that helped fill schedules in the dwindling Rum River.
"Actually, the Rum River is already gone," Gauffin said. "We're all independents in football this fall. But we're probably going to have each team offer some nominations, so the deserving kids can get all-conference recognition. We can use the Rum River connection that way."
Foley was 5-0 when it came to Mora on Friday night. The Falcons already had victories over Milaca and Zimmerman, so they were looking for a sweep of opponents from the pseudo-Rum River.
Foley has membership in the wide-ranging West Central Conference in all other sports for this school year.
"We're going back to where we came from," said Darien DeRocher, retired after service as a Foley football coach and athletic director. "We were in the West Central before we switched to the Rum River in '69."
The State High School League also ordered the West Central to accept Mora and Milaca for 2008-09. Come next fall, that conference will have two divisions and 18 teams, sprawling from Mora to Montevideo.
Speaking of sprawl, there's a lesson to be learned in the urban variety when you look at the history of the Rum River Conference. For more than 20 years after World War II, it was a seven-team conference: Mora, Milaca, Elk River, Cambridge, Princeton, Braham and Ogilvie.
Today, Elk River has three high schools and a population of more than 22,000. Ogilvie, a village located halfway between Milaca and Mora, has a population of 478.
Foley was unbeaten in the regular season a year ago, and then ran into powerful Becker in the section final. Becker has been bounced upward to Class 4A, leaving Foley with realistic expectations of reaching the Dome (for the Class 3A semis) for the first time since 2000.
The unbeaten Falcons gave 2-3 Mora some early life by fumbling a punt. The Mustangs recovered on Foley's 17, and quarterback Ben Besser ran it in three plays later for a 6-0 lead.
It seems as if most every team with an athletic quarterback is putting him in a shotgun formation, more to take advantage of running ability than passing. That's the case with Besser.
Foley also has one of those quarterbacks in Bryce Gapinski, but it has him behind center in a traditional offensive set. From there, the Falcons run and run some more, and then Gapinski steps back and throws a lefthanded dart.
His first pass went deep to Tim Phonvidone for 59 yards and a touchdown. His second was a slant that Eric Herm took 64 yards for a touchdown.
Two-for-two, 123 yards and two touchdowns. Tom Brady would be jealous of that quarterback rating.