As captains of the 2020-21 Belle Plaine Tigers football team, seniors Luke Fogarty and Tucker Schultz likely envisioned what many before them had envisioned: leading by example - physically and vocally, demanding the best from themselves and helping their teammates find their best, setting the bar.
From the opening whistle of August’s first four-hour-sundrenched practice, through ups and downs of the regular season to the last walk off the field on a late fall evening, a season-ending defeat, and accepting the finality from beneath a blanket of sweaty chill, their bodies hurt, their heads grasped that this was the end, their hearts fi led with pride in knowing that they’d left all they had on the field, and through their leadership and effort, they’d brought their teammates with them, every play.
But Fogarty and Schultz were dealt a hand that none before them had played. Hopefully, by next fall, for their younger teammates, those cards will be put away.
Initially, it looked like football season would be canceled for the Tigers’ 14 seniors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then the Minnesota State High School League entertained the thought of football in the spring. Finally, it settled on a condensed six game season, against mostly local competition and a shortened post-season.
The Tigers suffered a pair of heartbreaking defeats at the beginning of the season to old Minnesota River Conference rivals Norwood Young America and LeSueur-Henderson, both after taking a fourth-quarter lead. They also fell 8-0 to Tri City United in the annual Homecoming match. And that was the end. It didn’t feel like the end when they walked off the field on Nov. 6 after their Homecoming game.
Schultz was in quarantine while the Tigers were preparing for their Nov. 11 game with Waseca. On Tuesday, Nov. 10, with many of the Tigers in quarantine, the game was canceled.
The next day Belle Plaine’s likely trip to Litchfield for a Section 2AAA playoff game was also canceled. The season was over.
“We saw it coming at some point,” said Fogarty. “It was kind of crazy; I wasn’t ready for it to be over.”
“It wasn’t really until a day or two later that it hit me,” Schultz said, “not getting that final game moment or a photo with my parents.”
Head Coach Joe Joyce was preparing the team for Waseca, and they had started scouting Litchfield for a likely playoff tilt. He knew the Tigers would be shorthanded against Waseca but was hoping they’d be back to full strength a week later.
“Every team had stuff like this happen,” Joyce said. “We had guys ready to step in and get after it. They were so positive and great about everything.”
“But the writing was on the wall,” Joyce said, adding the Section 2AAA’s Providence Academy has also pulled the plug on its season. Joyce said the timing of it was unfortunate.
“If it happens two weeks earlier, you take your break then you’re back playing.”
Despite the odd season, Fogarty and Schultz are both satisfied that they got even a partial season, especially playing old MRC foes, and that it was in the fall.
“I was really happy to play in the fall and especially with the schedule we got,” Schultz said. “It was nice to play Sibley (East) and Norwood and LS-H because I have some buddies who play for them. Football was made for the fall.”
Some of the normalities that complete the experience were missing: the locker room banter, the build to a crescendo on Friday nights with the band, the popcorn, and the gathering crowd.
“We didn’t have that energy the first couple games,” Schultz said. “We needed the younger kids to be vocal, and we tried to stress that. It felt different. It felt like B-team games when I was younger.”
Fogarty agreed. “It was a lot different trying to get people hyped up for the game and not being half-asleep when we talked out there.”
The team also met outside the school on game days, rather than in the locker room.
“Being with the team in the locker room helps out,” Fogarty said.
Joyce said the biggest difference was preparing for the season.
“First, you’re not having a season, then bam, you’re having a season.”
Even though the Tigers finished 0-5, Fogarty and Schultz walk away pleased with the experience.
“It was disappointing but being with the guys and the team was a good time,” Fogarty said.“A couple of wins would’ve made it better though.”
“I’m just happy we had a season in general,” Schultz said.
“In a perfect world, we’d be able to get everyone together to talk through it with the seniors,” Joyce said. “They didn’t get that closure.”
2020 BPHS Football Team’s Results / Record: 0-5
L Oct. 9 - NYA 20, BP 16
L Oct. 16 - LSH 27, BP 22
L Oct. 23 - SE 36, BP 8
L Oct. 30 - Jordan 55, BP 0
L Nov. 6 - TCU 8, BP 0