Augsburg's football team traveled to New Ulm on Sunday and survived with a 24-21 victory over Martin Luther, the recent power of Minnesota's smaller Division III conference, the UMAC.
This allowed the Augsburg seniors graduating on May 3 and then moving on from football to leave with a long winning streak. OK, it's only two wins a row, but they were separated by 519 days.
"I have declared us to be the MIAC champions for my last season," left tackle Jacob Weisser said. "We're the only conference team that's played an actual game and we're 1-0, so that makes us the champs."
This ascent to glory started with a 12-9 victory over Hamline in a season-closing battle of the conference's winless on Nov. 16, 2019. That narrow victory did not save coach Frank Haege's job, what with the Auggies having lost the previous 16 in the MIAC … including that 75-0 deal vs. Bethel in 2018.
Derrin Lamker, the quarterback half of the Lamker-Scott Hvistendahl combo that propelled Augsburg's 1997 conference champs, was hired as Haege's replacement in December 2019. A state champion coach at Osseo and a successful coach at Edina, Lamker brought with him a renewed enthusiasm for being an Auggie.
"We couldn't wait to play for him," Weisser said.
The veteran Auggies wound up waiting 17 months. And for almost a month of that time, Lamker was a rumor Zooming in from the North Woods.
Augsburg shut down in March 2020. In the months that followed, the MIAC went from anticipating a full season, to suggesting a shortened schedule, and then a move to spring football.
There was a COVID outbreak with the Auggies late last September that included a 14-day quarantine for coaches. Derrin and Amy Lamker's daughters, senior Jordyn and sophomore Shea, were outstanding athletes at Maple Grove.
Amy had been an All-America and MIAC Player of the Year (as Amy Bot) in basketball for St. Thomas in the early '90s. Jordyn became the first women's basketball player to accept a Division I scholarship from the Tommies on Jan. 8.
Last fall, she was the goalkeeper in soccer and also starting the delayed volleyball practice. Shea was also a volleyball player.
"I wasn't going to let Derrin move in with us for his quarantine," Amy said Tuesday. "We sent him to his parents' cabin in Crosslake."
Derrin had reached the end of his quarantine requirement. He was standing outside the fence to watch Jordyn's last soccer game. He informed Amy he wasn't feeling well.
"She told me to go get tested and sit in a hotel room and wait for the result," Lamker said. "I was positive."
Amy left clean clothes and a couple of sacks of groceries in the driveway in Andover and sent Coach Lamker back to Crosslake for 10 more days of quarantine.
"It was a scene from a bad divorce movie," he said.
Practice didn't amount to much for the Auggies in the fall. Yet Lamker, the coaching staff and the players remained determined to have a football season in some form.
"First, it was going to be six games in the spring, then five, and then it was set: Three games, against St. Thomas, Martin Luther and St. Olaf," said Frank Heenie, a senior right tackle. "There was more COVID, and it wound up being the game with Martin Luther. And, we're hoping, a scrimmage on our field Friday against St. Olaf."
Preparations weren't all smooth for Sunday's game. "I was working on a Saturday and missed practice," Heenie said. "Our right guard turned out to be positive and all the linemen that were there had to go into quarantine.
"So for two weeks before the game, we had two linemen, center Paul Lemke and me. We took turns snapping the football and ran around a little."
The rest of the line was out of quarantine in time for the bus ride to New Ulm. "Three coach buses, 28 players per bus," Weisser said. "It was the first time I've ever had leg room as an offensive lineman."
Weisser had played extensively since arriving from Anoka and started as a sophomore and junior. Heenie, from Waconia, had played behind Aaron Austin for three years. On Sunday, Heenie missed only one play, "popping" his right knee, and immediately returned.
The Auggies held on for a win, they doused Lamker in honor of his first victory, they danced and hugged, they ate a feast of Jimmy John's sandwiches, and then sprawled out in those coach buses.
These were the roomy chariots of MIAC champs, if you ask Jacob Weisser.