Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota (FAM), my weekly column that tours football topics in our state from preps to pros. This is my last FAM of the season, and you can find all the previous FAM columns right here. Thank you for reading. — Chip

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The play is called "Trips Right 290 All Clear" in the New London-Spicer offense.

Translation: Hail Mary.

"Truthfully," coach Chad Gustafson said, "we have not practiced that play in a very long time."

His players pulled it off, with an unforgettable twist.

Down to one final play in the Class 3A Prep Bowl on Saturday, the Wildcats turned desperation into ecstasy with a walkoff touchdown that will still be a topic of conversation at 25-year class reunions.

Three players — a senior, junior and sophomore — joined forces to manufacture a 48-yard touchdown as time expired to give New London-Spicer a 27-26 win over Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton.

There was a pass, a catch, a lateral and then a touchdown — a sequence that has been viewed online more than 3 million times and earned the No. 1 spot on ESPN's top 10 plays of the day.

A day later, the trio of participants were still trying to process everything that transpired in those 9.6 seconds that elapsed from the ball being snapped to the touchdown that ignited bedlam.

"It was a surreal moment," said sophomore quarterback Blake Schultz.

"I've watched it a couple hundred times," said junior tight end Grant Paffrath.

"I couldn't believe it happened," said senior receiver Brycen Christensen.

The dramatic finish came after the Wildcats gave up a touchdown with 24 seconds left. They had no timeouts left.

"I had a little bit of hope left," Christensen said, "but it wasn't looking too good."

The Wildcats moved the ball to the 43-yard line, but a false start penalty put the ball at the 48 with four seconds left.

Schultz ran over to the sideline to get the play call. Trips Right 290 All Clear.

Gustafson told his quarterback to remind everyone in the huddle to not get tackled with the ball. Pitch it before that happens.

The formation put three receivers on the right side, one on the left. All four receivers had vertical routes.

"The play clock was running down so it was getting tight," Schultz said. "I was like, we've got to hurry up, guys."

Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton rushed only three defenders, giving Schultz enough time to let his receivers run down the field. Paffrath and Christensen were in the same vicinity around the 20, near the sideline.

"I was intending for Brycen to catch it," Schultz said. "But I threw it just a touch far and Grant made a great play on it."

Said Christensen: "I saw the ball going over my head. I was hoping that Grant was in position to catch the ball. Right as he caught it, I saw that he was getting tackled."

Paffrath grabbed the ball in traffic at the 17-yard line and immediately got spun around by a defensive back. As he was twisting and falling, he heard Christensen screaming his name a few yards away.

"I didn't want to go down to the ground," Paffrath said. "I knew I was going to throw it. Brycen ended up being right there and he was yelling. I could hear him."

He pitched the ball back to Christensen, who ran the final 14 yards to the end zone, ahead of a defender in pursuit.

"I saw the end zone right in front of me," Christensen said. "I did everything I could to get there."

Said Paffrath: "I was tackled and facing the other way. I could just see the crowd start cheering."

Schultz: "I didn't even see Grant catch it at first. I saw the guy wrapping him up and Grant was falling down. Then I saw the ball come out when he pitched it, and Brycen took it to the end zone."

They have been asked many times if the lateral was by design.

"That play was completely improvised," Christensen said.

Joked Gustafson, the coach: "I'd like to say, 'Yes, I am so smart. I told them to do that.' The only thing I did was tell them don't get tackled with the ball."

The touchdown gave the Wildcats their second state championship, joining the 2009 team.

The school held a celebration in the gymnasium for players and families Saturday night, followed by a party for the community at the Spicer American Legion.

"It was cool to see the whole town," Paffrath said.

The play, of course, was retold and relived and rewatched on phones all night.

"Anytime you win a state tournament, it will stick with you for life," Gustafson said. "That type of an ending is storybook. That's like a movie. Some of the coaches woke up [Sunday] and said, 'Did we really win, or did I dream that?' I said, 'Well, I've got the trophy, so I think it's real.' "

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The winless but undefeated Warriors

It was around this time last year when Star Tribune colleague Joel Rippel, our department's sports historian, emailed me a possible FAM item about the Red Lake High football team. In examining various archives, Joel found that it has been many years since Red Lake has won a game.

That piqued my curiosity. I wanted to know more about the story behind that. I invited Red Lake coach Nolan Desjarlait to lunch last spring to meet and talk about his team, his life and family and his community.

What followed that lunch was one of the most enriching experiences in my 30 years as a sportswriter. Our monthslong project appeared in the Star Tribune over the weekend, and the response from readers has been overwhelming.

As a friend told me, the story is both inspiring and heartbreaking. At the center of the story is Desjarlait, the coach who wears many hats and shows unwavering positivity despite his own personal grief. Desjarlait's son, Nolan Jr., died at age 10 in an ATV accident. He would have been a senior this year and undoubtedly a star athlete.

Nolan Jr.'s best friends growing up are seniors now, playing for his dad, who maintains an important presence in the lives of his players. The story highlights the positive influence that high school coaches can have on teenagers.

Desjarlait is a soft-spoken man who pours himself into helping kids. Some of his players call him Uncle Nolan. He doesn't scream or berate his players. He puts his arm around them and lifts them up, knowing that grace is often an appropriate response when dealing with young people.

Everybody could use someone like Nolan Desjarlait in their corner.

A little background on the reporting process:

Desjarlait allowed my colleague Aaron Lavinsky and myself to spend the season with his team to chronicle the challenges of playing football in a community where basketball is the No. 1 sport.

I visited the reservation eight times to take in different moments. First practice. First home game. First road game. Senior Day.

We rode the bus with the team to a game at Bagley. Aaron spent some time with players away from school to capture a magnificent photo display. On our final visit, Nolan took us to his home to visit Nolan Jr.'s gravesite in the backyard.

I felt many emotions every time I made the 4½-hour drive back home from the reservation. The impact this story has made on me is beyond words.

A main takeaway from my interactions with players and coaches is an overarching sense of pride. Pride in their community. Pride in wearing the Warriors uniform. Pride in their resilience to stick with football when losses keep coming. Pride in being part of that athletic family.

I've trained myself not to root for outcomes in games that I cover, but I broke that tenet while reporting this story. I wished the Warriors got to experience that joyous feeling of victory after losing so often, but then it dawned me: What drew me to this story was a losing streak, but that streak ultimately had little to do with the story I found.

One anecdote underscores that point:

When Desjarlait took over as football coach, the program did not have a conference to call home. Desjarlait spent hours on the phone calling schools trying to find games. Some seasons were only a few games before they eventually joined a conference.

Desjarlait once brought his team to Brooklyn Center for a game. The score was lopsided, but the way Red Lake handled that moment caught the eye of a parent of a Brooklyn Center teacher. The man wrote Desjarlait a letter after the game, thanking the Warriors for the "class, patience and dignity you showed in a very tough defeat."

The letter still hangs on a wall in Desjarlait's office 12 years later.

That message perfectly captures the essence of the Red Lake Warriors football team and its coach.

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Thank you for reading

This is the final FAM of the 2022 season. (Sniffle, sniffle.) We created this weekly space devoted strictly to football happenings in Minnesota last year, and Year 2 delivered more stories of triumphant and tragedy, displays of perseverance and individual and team superlatives. Here are a half-dozen of my favorites:

Courageous young man: Bloomington Jefferson freshman Ethan Glynn shared his remarkable positive attitude after suffering a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Ethan's courage and tenacity in attacking his rehab work at a Denver area facility have been inspiring to those following his recovery.

Update from his mom, Cassidy Durkin: Ethan is scheduled to be discharged from inpatient care on Thursday and transition to outpatient housing next to the Craig Hospital. He will continue therapy for at least two more weeks, with a chance he will be back home in Minnesota by Christmas.

He continues to show progress in rehab, and the plan is for him to return to school at Jefferson on a modified schedule by mid-January. "He's super excited to get home," Durkin said.

Keep fighting, Ethan.

On the farm: When a tipster informed me that Minnesota farmers spend the fall harvest listening to Gophers and Vikings games in their combines on weekends, I asked a friend who farms in Hector if I could join him. I know nothing about farming, but Deron Johnson, a diehard football fan, gave me a crash course on harvesting corn on a beautiful Saturday afternoon while the Gophers played at Illinois. Such a cool experience.

That catch: When Justin Jefferson pulled down a miracle one-handed catch in Buffalo, I asked guys who played that position — Hall of Famers to high school stars — to share their reaction.

Three more: I learned new things about how high school teams use sideline technology, got to write about a rare "Pick-Two" play and talked to a pair of record-setting players at Bemidji State who have been teammates since third grade.

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Game balls

  • Caden Renslow: Simley quarterback accounted for four touchdowns — two passing, two running — in rallying his team to a win over Hutchinson in the Class 4A Prep Bowl.
  • Tate Inniger: Barnesville tight end caught three passes and all three were touchdowns, and also carried the ball once — a 1-yard TD run — in a Class 2A Prep Bowl championship win.
  • Camryn Bynum: Vikings safety caused an interception with a pass breakup on the first possession and grabbed his own interception on the final possession to seal a win over the Jets.

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He said what?!

"Man, why you watching me? [laughing]. I always did that since I was a little kid. I guess you could say it's a habit. My mom used to rock me when I was a little kid, so it's comforting. I just do it whenever I'm sitting there. I guess it's just a habit." — Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson on why he rocks back and forth on the bench between series.

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Numbers to know

  • 4: High school teams that went undefeated this season — Maple Grove (6A), Elk River (5A), Barnesville (2A) and Mountain Iron-Buhl (Nine-Man).
  • 9: Times the Vikings have started a season 10-2.
  • 24: Consecutive points given up by Bethel in the fourth quarter of a 41-28 loss to defending national champion Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals.

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Grab your popcorn

Vikings at Detroit, Sunday at noon. The Vikings can clinch the NFC North for the first time since 2017 with a win.

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An important 48 hours for …

P.J. Fleck. The transfer portal window officially opened Monday, kicking off a frenzy of player movement throughout college football. The Gophers have lost a handful of players to the portal, including projected starting safety Michael Dixon.

The portal has become a source of consternation within college sports, but remember, the portal works both ways. Fleck's task is to plug holes on his roster by finding immediate help in the portal starting this week.

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As we wrap up Season 2 of FAM, I'd like to extend my gratitude to those who have allowed me to tell their stories and to readers who make this column a part of your weekly reading habits. The goal of FAM is to find stories that go beyond the obvious and to celebrate football in Minnesota at all levels. I promise to keep looking hard to uncover gems.

See you next season!