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Chris Murphy, Published November 13 2013

Many in Hawley still haunted by Chatfield game

Fargo - It’s a trip down memory lane no person from Hawley, Minn., wants to take.

Another reminder how close the school came to a state championship the Nuggets could call their own, something they’ve never been able to do.

Hawley athletic director Brett Schmidt can’t remember the score of the last-second win the Nuggets pulled off in the 1996 football semifinals, but he certainly remembers the score of the title game against Chatfield.

“12-7,” Schmidt said with pain in his voice, as if the loss just happened.

It was a 12-7 loss in the state championship a year after losing to Chatfield 12-6 in the state championship. Hawley has not gotten back to the title game, nor have the Nuggets played Chatfield, since. The two will square off at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Metrodome in the Class 2A semifinals.

Schmidt doesn’t remember the score of the 1996 semifinal game, but there isn’t a thing about the 1996 loss in the title game he doesn’t remember.

Schmidt was in his first year at Hawley, helping coach the offense. His play call on third-and-24 from the coaching box of the Metrodome with three minutes left in the game has lived on in Nuggets’ history. Originally, it was going to live in ecstasy. Instead, it lives in infamy.

“It was a double fade down the sideline like we ran all the time,” Schmidt said. “We lined up in a double wide pro set, and we took a three-step drop. Our quarterback Travis Olson threw the ball out to the right about as far as he could all the way across the field and Jon Peterson got behind the defender and caught it and ran into the end zone and the celebration was on.”

It was a 64-yard touchdown pass that would have put Hawley up 13-12, but before the play even got going, Schmidt saw a flag and he knew.

“I saw it right away as soon as the play took off,” Schmidt said. “I knew it was coming back. Of course, afterward it was pretty devastating when you stopped and thought about how close you were.”

It was an illegal procedure penalty on Hawley. The touchdown was called back, at which point a Chatfield player literally dropped to his knees and pretended to kiss the Metrodome turf, and a few minutes later Chatfield was celebrating their third straight state title.

The Nuggets were called for not having enough players on the line of scrimmage. Mike Malmberg – the Hawley coach at the time – said after the game the formation was one the Nuggets used all season long and had not been flagged for before.

Schmidt, along with Hawley’s Lee Eklund, are the only two remaining coaches from either Chatfield or Hawley that were part of that game. Although people have gone different ways, it doesn’t mean they forgot.

“It was one of the best high school games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Moorhead High School athletic director Dean Haugo, who was student teaching and helping with the Hawley football team in 1996. “There was a lot of familiarity for two teams that were 300 miles apart because of the game the year before. It was one where no one deserved to lose.”

Hawley junior Ben Ellefson does not remember the title game, mainly because he was born in 1996. What the Nuggets do know is they’ve never won a state title in anything outside of two girls cross country titles (1989, 1991) and a girls track title (1989) in a co-op with Ulen-Hitterdal.

“We’re well aware of that,” said Ellefson, who caught the winning touchdown in a 29-22 win over Holdingford in the quarterfinals. “We just have to get it done. We’ve been good at moving around in spots and doing what the coaches ask us to do. It’s got us this far, so hopefully we can keep going.”

Hawley first made it to state in 1992 and have been back 13 times since. The football tradition began when Ellefson and the current Nuggets weren’t even alive.

And it’s brought its share of heartache.

“Right now, people think Hawley has a long-time tradition, which it has, but that was the early part of that tradition in 1996,” Haugo said. “It was really fun to be part of something, part of a staff where that tradition was really just taking off.”

The Nuggets will try to make new memories at the Metrodome on Friday morning.

“Hopefully we’ll be wide awake and ready to go,” Ellefson said. “It should be a good one.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548