Denfeld upset overshadows stadium renaming

John Gilbert

Sophomore Taye Manns powered through the Grand Rapids defense for 188 yards and two touchdowns, including a 76-yard game-winning kickoff return. Photo by John Gilbert.

Our whole family had gathered for the ceremony to officially dedicate Public Schools Stadium to becoming “Marv Heikkinen Field at Walt Hunting Stadium” last Friday night, and after being honored to escort starting defensive end Adili ElFundi on the field in the pregame ceremonies, I joined the family in the packed grandstand, where they had saved me a space.

Favored powerhouse Grand Rapids had jumped ahead immediately when Jamie Froehlich caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Devin Kinkel, but the Hunters had battled back with the obvious adrenaline surge from the pre-game festivities and actually led at halftime when sophomore Taye Manns broke loose for a pair of 74-yard runs — the first for a touchdown and the second to set up the second of Luke Pearson’s touchdowns.

It was a good game, made spectacular by just enough early-season mistakes and the raw emotion that overcame the glitches. My guy, Adili, had an impressive game on defense, too. In the third quarter, Grand Rapids pulled into a 21-18 lead on Froehlich’s 30-yard scoring run, and suddenly it looked like their field possession might make the outcome inevitable.

My wife, Joan, had earlier suggested that maybe we wouldn’t stay for the whole game, and as the Thunderhawks lined up to kick off, she said, “OK, if Denfeld doesn’t get something going on this possession, we’ll leave OK?” Before I could agree, Taye Manns caught the ensuing kickoff on his 24-yard line and, after a change of direction, raced all the way — 76 yards – for a touchdown to vault the Hunters back into the lead at 24-21, and replenish the adrenaline overload.

They battled the Thunderhawks evenly and forced a couple of breaks along the way to hold on to win by that score. The breaks were about even. Leading 7-6, Kinkel tried to hit Froehling over the middle, but K.J. Pulliam went up and intercepted the pass. Froehling, seizing the moment, came back and went up with Pulliam, wrenching the ball away from him, and running it in to complete a bizarre 39-yard scoring play.

At the end, however, the Thunderhawks moved in for what would have been the game-winning touchdown, but this time Kinkel’s pass was intercepted, and held onto, by Pulliam.

Call it the final destiny for what might be a team of destiny. It made the Hunters 2-0 for the season — matching their victory total from last year’s 2-6 record, and making them undefeated on their “new” Mark Heikkinen Field.

It was the highlight of an amazingly entertaining weekend, which began with the NFL regular-season opener that saw Detroit go into Kansas City and shock the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs 21-20 as Jared Goff outplayed the brilliant Patrick Mahomes down the stretch. It also verifies my belief that the Lions — who went 9-8 after winning eight of their final 10 games last season — are ready to be anointed favorites in the Central Division. The fact that the defending division champion Vikings botched a 10-3 lead in Minneapolis and lost 20-17 to Tampa Bay when Baker Mayfield outplayed Kirk Cousins down the stretch, bolsters the Lions fast start.

Cousins actually played very well, although the Twin Cities media boosters seemed to hold him blameless when he fumbled twice and then threw a finally fatal interception at the Bucs goal line was interesting, after every media type in Minneapolis had picked the Vikings to whip Tampa Bay, suggesting that the often-erratic Baker Mayfield would turn the ball over all day. Mayfield had no fumbles, no interceptions and showed the fierce determination he has expressed in announcing this season is his chance to prove his ultimate merit.

Cousins threw for 328 yards, but the Vikings gained a meager 41 yards on the ground, as their new Dalvin Cook-less running attack was stymied by the Buccaneers. Justin Jefferson caught nine passes for 150 yards, but Cousins couldn’t get him the ball when it mattered.

We didn’t have to venture out of town for more entertainment than the spectacular high school football Friday night, however, because we also hit Romano Gym, to watch UMD bounce back from getting swept by a potent Central Washington outfit that went undefeated to win the Up North Volleyball Tournament.

The Bulldogs turned loose 6-foot-3 junior Samantha Paulsen to lead a well-balanced offense to a three-game sweep against Northern Michigan in their first of two wins Saturday. Paulsen, from Chicago Lakes, recorded 13 kills and was credited with 4 blocks, although her towering presence on the right outside made it seem like she blocked more Wildcat short than got past her. Hope Schjenken had 9 kills and 2 blocks, Paige Decker 6 kills and 3 blocks, and Kylie Broten 4 kills and 4 blocks. UMD won the first set 25-21, the second by 25-11, and completed the sweep 25-18 by scoring the last seven points to shatter an 18-18 tie in the third, when Paulsen came up with a couple of kills and blocked-shot points. Asked which she preferred, blasting those kills or smothering opposing shots at the net, Paulsen smiled and said, “Actually, blocking shots might be more fun.”

Coach Jim Boos said, “Northern Michigan is a young team, and they were playing without their two best players, but they played with a lot of energy. We had an idea what Northern would try to do, so we made them try to go through Sam, and she had a big day for us. She had 13 kills on 19 attempts, for a .579 average, and we hit .337 as a team. Along with Sam, I thought Hope played very well, and Kylie played well in limited playing time.

“We found out that Central Washington was as good as we expected. We didn’t slumber, they played very well. They finished going undefeated by beating St. Cloud State in five sets after being down 2-0. They’re a good team that played very well against us, and we’re a good team that didn’t play very well. That was the difference.”

The Bulldogs dropped the first set but came back to beat Southern New Hampshire in their Saturday night finale to go 3-1 in their tournament.

To add a final bit of seasoning to the weekend, the UMD soccer team beat Northern State 3-1 for their first victory of the season.