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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Current New London-Spicer players Brandon Knisley (far left), Avery Knisley (center) and Ben Beuning (second from right) stand with their fathers John Knisley (second from left) and Paul Beuning (far right), who played for Belgrade’s 1982 Class C runner-up team.

Willmar notebook: Prep Bowl a tie that binds

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Like most Novembers, the short days of 1982 were gray, sub-freezing and forbidding.

The undefeated Belgrade Redmen finished the regular season undefeated then won consecutive Class C playoff games on the frozen field across from the high school. They first defeated Battle Lake 16-0 and then St. Paul Academy 20-12 in the semifinals.

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The players maintained “cold and snow” were allies.

That Saturday afternoon’s 8-point victory in a 14-degree chill punched the town’s ticket to Minnesota’s new sports Mecca—the H.H.H. Metrodome, about a 100 miles east on State Highway 55. The elation was intense, just as it is for New London and Spicer, which will send a team to Prep Bowl XXXII, the last under the “Big Top.”

Belgrade coach Dennis Weimerskirch told Tribune Sports Editor Bruce Strand after the semifinal: “To play in the Metrodome and use the same locker room and field as the Vikings, that’s just not something that every small-town kid can do.”

Stocky junior nose guard John Knisley and running back/defensive back Paul Beuning were two of the wide-eyed kids on the Astroturf on Nov. 20, 1982, for Prep Bowl I. Instead of cleats, they wore tennis shoes. The Redmen’s overheated heavy long-sleeved jerseys were like overcoats on the 75-degree Dome floor.

The Truman Bluejays (10-1) came out swinging, cuffing the super-heated Belgrade lads into the ropes. With eight minutes gone, the slightly-favored Redmen trailed 13-0, as many TDs as they had given up in an entire game all fall. Knisley blocked the Jays second PAT try, a feat repeated by his son, Brandon, 31 years later last Saturday when the two-way lineman blocked Rochester Lourdes’ second conversion kick.

The Redmen regrouped. The defense shut down Truman and quarterback Bruce Dueval scored on a 46-yard burst and later on a sneak, the former topped by Steve Buchholz conversion run adding up to a 14-13 fourth-quarter Belgrade lead.

A state championship was minutes away. But Truman had life. Quarterback Ron Peterson, Jr., the coach’s son, drove the Bluejays to the Belgrade 12 and on fourth-and-one, with less than a minute to play, booted the team’s first field goal all season for a 16-14 lead. The 29-yard kick cleared the cross bar by inches. It was over.

Asked minutes later how far their collective hearts sank, the ever-quotable Belgrade coach replied: “Down to our big toes.”

Besides the blocked kick, Knisley had 6 solo tackles; Beuning rushed 20 times for 79 yards, bringing his season total in 13 games to over 1,500 yards and Tribune Area First Team status.

Asked what he knew of the big game, NLS senior Ben Beuning shuffled his feet and replied “Not much, other than they lost on a field goal.”

The two dads both recall a diving 10-yard touchdown catch by Lyle Schumann that was ruled incomplete, the officials maintaining that his shoulders had hit the turf out-of-bounds before his feet, which were clearly in-bounds as verified by the scoreboard replay.

So it goes.

Weimerskirch, a hometown boy, who was an assistant coach in 1965 on the only other Belgrade team to finish undefeated in the regular season, summed up the jubilant feeling of a Prep Bowl berth: “In the world of sports, this is the biggest thing ever in Belgrade.”

Prep Bowl area teams

Other west-central area communities would also know the thrill over the next 31 years. Here’s a list of Prep Bowl finalist from the Tribune coverage:

Prep Bowl II: Bird Island-Lake Lillian lost to Southland, Adams 28-0 … Prep Bowl III: Granite Falls def. Breckenridge 13-7 … Prep Bowl V: Watertown-Mayer def. Granite Falls 29-6 … Prep Bowl VI: Granite Falls def. Ely 43-20 … Prep Bowl VII: Breckenridge def. Morris 21-7 … Prep Bowl IX: BOLD, Olivia def. DeLaSalle 15-14 … Prep Bowl X: BOLD def. Deer River 14-0 … Prep Bowl XI: St. Cloud Cathedral def. BOLD 7-6 … Prep Bowl XVII: Mahnomen def. BOLD 27-26 …

Prep Bowl XX: Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City def. Windom Area 27-20 … Prep Bowl XXVII: Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg def. Royalton 33-22 … Prep Bowl XXVIII: New London-Spicer def. Glencoe-Silver Lake 28-21 … Prep Bowl XXX: Dawson-Boyd def. Mahnomen 35-20 … Prep Bowl XXXII: Dawson-Boyd vs. Mahnomen (A) … New London-Spicer vs. St. Croix Lutheran (AAA).

The last game

Owatonna and Brainerd play for the Class AAAAA championship. Owatonna, as well as Mahnomen, played in Prep Bowl I.

 It’s the first trip for Ron Stolski and the Warriors, who upset Chaska with some huge defensive stops in the fourth quarter to secure a dramatic 20-19 victory. Both finalists are 12-0.

Former Cardinals’ head coach Deryl Ramey and son Jeff (WHS ’82) are on Stolski’s staff. Jeff coaches the quarterbacks and puts together the primary game plan for the offense along with wide receivers coach Troy Nelson. Jeff also decides on kick returns for the week, and his call led to a return for six points on the opening kickoff vs. the Hawks.

Deryl has responsibilities for outside linebackers and the punt return/rush units, plus the Atwater native prepares the defensive scout book after breaking down films.

Owatonna is ranked No. 1 and will be favored; whatever the outcome, the Central Lakes North champs have already earned a spot in Minnesota history as the “Last (Prep) Picture Show” in the slated for demolition Metrodome.

Wrestlemania

Tickets are $5 students and $10 adults for AWF Wrestlemania 6 p.m. Sunday at the Willmar High School gymnasium. Six matches are scheduled and will be taped for the AWF’s Sunday morning TV show.

The AWF, of Elk River, is known for its “family-friendly” shows and frequently is brought in for fundraisers. This event is sponsored by the Willmar Takedown Club, which helps support youth wrestling and the school teams. Proceeds will be used to buy new mats for the senior high school.

On the fly

n Willmar grad Adam Fagerstrom plays rugby at UW-Stout, whose club team has qualified for the USA Rugby College 7s national tournament in Greensboro, N.C., this weekend.

n Willmar junior swimmer Alycia Holwerda lowered her school record in the 100-breaststroke to 1:07.21 while winning the consolation final on Wednesday at the State meet.

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Rand Middleton

Covers Willmar and area high schools and Ridgewater College, plus amateur baseball, stock car racing and fitness events in summer. Writes weekly column since 1980. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 

(320) 214-4334
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