Now that we’re well into our third month without sports, Star Tribune sportswriters and editors have been thinking back on the favorite events they’ve covered. They range from the biggest of games to others that have been long forgotten by most people, if they knew about them in the first place. Some were covered for the Star Tribune, some for other news organizations. We’re publishing our memories this week and today high school sports takes the spotlight.
Michael Rand, the Star Tribune's senior digital writer and pro basketball editor, has his own version of a miracle in Minneapolis.
About 10 years before the “Minneapolis Miracle,” in roughly the same spot on the field that Stefon Diggs caught that pass, in the venerable and since-torn-down Metrodome, I saw something I will never forget – and yes, something more amazing than the miracle itself.
It was another walk-off catch. But in this case, it was in the Class 4A championship game between Mahtomedi and Totino-Grace in the 2007 Prep Bowl.
Totino-Grace trailed 8-7 with 10 seconds left. The Eagles had the ball at midfield and drew up a pass play in hopes of gaining enough yards to try a long field goal. Instead Jordan Marshall’s pass was tipped by a Mahtomedi player and tipped by a Totino-Grace player … before settling into the arms of Micah Koehn near the right sideline.
Koehn, who later said he wasn’t even supposed to be anywhere near where the ball was thrown, sprinted down the field inches away from the sideline and, in a moment of otherworldly athleticism and youthful exuberance, did a front flip as he crossed the goal line.
Just like that, it was 13-8 and Totino-Grace had won the state title. Players from both teams were sprawled on the old dome turf in disbelief, with emotions as disparate as could be imagined.
The setup only made it more astounding: After being shut out all game, Mahtomedi had finally broken through with a 14-play, 68-yard drive punctuated by a touchdown with 52 seconds left in regulation. Instead of trying to kick the game-tying extra point, the Zephyrs went for two and made it to take an 8-7 lead.
It would have been a huge upset had that 8-7 lead stood. Mahtomedi lost three of its final four regular-season games that year before embarking on an impressive playoff run.
Instead, it became another chapter in a run of dominance that saw Totino-Grace win seven Class 4A titles between 2003 and 2012. I was the Star Tribune’s high school sports editor at the time. It remains the greatest game I’ve ever covered – high school, college or pro – and it will take nothing short of a miracle, and perhaps more, to knock it off that perch.
High school writer Jim Paulsen recalls a basketball game between two Minneapolis powers for a state tournament berth in 2006.
It’s not unusual to call a game “a war.” Nearly all of the time, the term is overused, a trite cliché intended to convey fierceness on the court and passion surrounding it. After all, it’s just a game.
Sometimes, however, no other portrayal will do.
Case in point: Friday, March 17, 2006. Osseo High School. DeLaSalle and Minneapolis Henry boys’ basketball teams faced off for the Class 3A, Section 5 championship, and with it, a state tournament berth. These two teams were known for basketball excellence, largely the result of their tightly wound coaches — Dave Thorson of DeLaSalle and Larry McKenzie of Henry — demanding their respective teams play defense with a fury.
From the outset, this one swapped beauty for brutality. Elbows flew; bodies did, too. Free-flowing basketball? Get that out of here. Points were paid for in bumps and bruises. Henry scratched out a three-point halftime lead, 22-19. But for the Patriots, just three years removed from becoming the second team in state history to win four championships in a row, that advantage seemed much larger.
The reason was that DeLaSalle’s heart, soul and guts, senior guard Cameron Rundles, had left the game with 5½ minutes left in the half. A collision under the basket with Henry’s star guard, Al Nolen Jr., had left Rundles crumpled on the floor, a gash over his right eye and his left — non-shooting — arm hanging limp, his shoulder dislocated.
His night looked over.
But DeLaSalle’s commitment to defense, and foul trouble for Nolen, kept the Islanders within striking distance. And with four minutes gone in the second half, their leader returned. A brace on his left shoulder and his head wrapped in a bandage (would he have even been allowed to return by today’s concussion protocols?), Rundles, showing Kerri Strug-like resolve, made his way from the locker room to the court.
Inspired, DeLaSalle rallied from a 12-point deficit for a 61-56 victory. Rundles added nine points after coming back, his only points of the game, and five assists in a game-deciding 19-6 run.
DeLaSalle used the victory as a springboard to the Class 3A state title, its first since 1999. After the game, Thorson gushed about Rundles’ resolve, saying he’s “never seen a player as tough.”
“He may not be the best player I’ve ever seen,” Thorson said. “But he is the toughest.”