It's about eight hours from kickoff as I write this Friday morning, a kickoff that will renew a football rivalry between Milaca and Princeton that went on for at least a century until the teams last played in 2011.
Cambridge and Elk River were big football rivals for the Princeton Tigers when I first started covering PHS football 51 years ago. But the biggest rivalry might have been with Milaca, given that the two towns were only 13 miles apart, and that players on the two teams often knew each other, some basically living across the road from each other where the Princeton and Milaca school districts converged. There were times when it was relative against relative.
Brainerd head coach Ron Stolski, nearing 400 wins in his 58-year head coaching career, six of them at Princeton, may have said it best when I interviewed him in 2011 as the teams played for the last time after a seven-year absence on each other's schedule that came about because Princeton moved to the new Mississippi 8 Conference. When he was here for those six years through the 1970 season, Stolski said Cambridge became the biggest rival for Princeton, mainly because Cambridge was so dominant then."But for the fans, it (the biggest rival) was Milaca," he said.
When the 2004 game was over to end the rivalry (or so we thought back then), Princeton winning 28-22 after a halftime tie at 16-16, the Tigers had won the last six games and 14 of the last 16. Milaca had a 214-40 edge in yards at halftime but Princeton piled up 374 yards in the second half. and got the win. Then, when the teams played in 2011 as each had an opening on the schedule, Milaca won 35-26 after Princeton led 14-13 at halftime.
Stolski got things turned around in Princeton with two conference titles, including an undefeated year in1967, and he credited a 26-12 win at Milaca in 1966 with turning the program around in Princeton. The Tigers' Tim Enger had a 91-yard touchdown run in that game and had 9 carries for 205 yards. "Those games with Herbie (Herb Claffy, Milaca head coach for 23 years until 1974), were always special," Stolski told me."They were always ready to play."
Howard Solheim, longtime athletic director and baseball coach at Princeton, told me that the crowd for the 1982 game in Princeton was estimated at 2,000."There was no place to sit and no place to park," he said. My guess is that might be the case tonight, even though the players from the two teams know little about the rivalry.
Some research in 2011 showed Princeton with a 35-24-1 edge from 1945 until 2004. Gary Larsen, Milaca editor and sports editor for many years, and I were going to try to do research farther back but never got it done. But we did find out that the two schools had played as far back as 1910. And back in the day, the Great Northern Railroad would schedule a special train for the game, with stops at Long Siding and Pease. And I've heard that there was even some partying going on aboard the train by fans from the winning team.
Doug Patnode, head coach at Princeton from 1973 to 1989, and then again from 1992 to 2004, was a 1968 Milaca grad and went on to an outstanding career as a running back at Minnesota-Morris. He said that when Cambridge and Elk River left the Rum River Conference in the 1970s, the Princeton-Milaca game was the biggest one for Princeton players and fans, saying that he thought Duane Jerzak, who took over for Claffy, also considered it Milaca's best rivalry game.
Claffy, for whom the field is named in Milaca, had fond memories of the games when I interviewed him eight years ago. "We didn't have dirty games," he said. "They were straight-up games. I always liked Princeton. I got along very good with them.They were not a mean foe. We had good teams and they had good teams. We kicked the hell out of them sometimes and they kicked the hell out of us sometimes."
So tonight, with some in the stands no doubt holding their phones to watch the streaking Minnesota Twins (think times have changed a bit?), the rivalry will be alive, at least for one night. The weather will be perfect and there will be a festive atmosphere with some older folks, who remember the rivalry well, in the stands, along with younger ones who have heard about the rivalry that included intense games and standing-room-only crowds.
The well-known words of a song by Mary Hopkin 50 years ago come to mind.
"Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end. We'd sing and dance forever and a day. We'd live the life we choose. We'd fight and never lose. For we were young and sure to have our way."
Daily diary for the 2019 Twins
Saturday, Aug. 31 - Now the lead is 4 1/2 games after the Twins blasted Detroit 13-5 and Tampa Bay, in a race for a wild card spot, shut out Cleveland 4-0. Kyle Gibson threw 107 pitches in only five innings (35 the first inning) but managed to raise his record to 13-6 as the Twins recorded their second six-game winning streak of the season. A three-run homer by C.J. Cron got the Twins to within five homers of the MLB record of 267 set by the Yankees in 2018. Their 4 1/2-game lead over the Indians is the team's largest since July 16. Eddie Rosario (91), Nelson Crux (88) and Max Kepler (87) all have a shot at 100 RBIs. Kepler (35) and Cruz (33) are over 30 in homers and have a chance for 40 with 28 games to go, while Rosario (27) and Miguel Sano (26) have a chance for 30. Mitch Garver has 24 but doesn't play on a regular basis, although his frequency of one homer per 10.9 at-bats is far and away the best on the team.
Sunday, Sept. 1 — The lead still at 4 1/2 games even though the Twins lost to lowly Detroit, 10-7, but Tampa Bay beat Cleveland again. The big news, of course, was that the Twins hit six home runs and set a new MLB record of 268. Astounding to me was that Rocco Baldelli let Martin Perez stay out there for a seven-run inning that put the Twins down 8-2. With the Twins having the offense they do, why would he do that? Perez should have been out of the game when it was 6-2. The Twins were 17-10 in August, the same record they had in April and May.
Monday, Sept. 2 — Lead now 5 1/2 games as Twins beat Detroit 8-3 on Sunday while Tampa Bay swept its series with the Indians. The win came on a day when the Twins had 11 singles and a double and still won, a day after the Twins hit six home runs and lost. It's the beautiful part of baseball. The double by Luis Arraez kept the team's streak alive at 90 games of getting at least one extra-base hit. Byron Buxton made a cameo appearance on defense in the ninth, as did Brusdar Graterol, the 21-year-old who is the team's top pitching prospect. He had a scoreless inning but gave up two hits and a walk, hitting 100 mph with one pitch after throwing one at 103.8 in the minors in August. Meanwhile, Jake Cave is hitting.383 in his last 19 games as he has played nearly every day with Byron Buxton on the injured list. Winning pitcher Michael Pineda (11-5) has been very good lately
Tuesday, Sept. 3 — Lead is 5 1/2 games. The Twins stole one from Detroit yesterday, getting two runs in the eighth for a 4-3 win after trailing much of the game. The relievers were great again - they've been solid lately. Ehire Adrianza, of all people, homered for the first time in 100 days and that's the only homer the past two days. But it was an important one and then Max Kepler had a two-out, two-run single for the other two runsin the eighth inning. Four relievers pitched four scoreless innings, including one by Tyler Duffey in which he struck out the side in his 15th consecutive appearance without giving up a run. The Twins made it a little more interesting than it needed to be by leaving 10 runners on base. It was the 27th come-from-behind win of the season.
Wednesday, Sept. 4 — Lead now 6 1/2 games. Remember Monday, Aug. 12? That was the day the Indians, with the Twins idle that day, won and took a half-game lead on the Twins. Since then, counting the 6-5 win at Fenway Park last night, the Twins are 15-5 and the Indians are 8-12. Boston stopped a streak of six straight games with 10 or more hits by the Twins but an early 6-0 lead, and some good relief pitching, sealed the deal. Taylor Rogers gave up a homer in the eighth but struck out Rafael Devers with a runner on third to end the game. Devers,having a great year with 107 RBIs, hit a three-run homer earlier to get the Red Sox back in the game after the 6-0 lead that included homers by Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano, Sano's blast estimated a 452 feet. It was the Twins' 47th win on the road this year, the most in all of baseball. Jake Cave contributed again with a two-run triple in the second inning that made it 3-0. It might be a little early but some are starting to throw around the magic number thing. The magic number is 18 - any combination of Minnesota wins and Cleveland losses totaling 18 would give the Twins the division. Maybe easier to understand is that if the Twins go 11-13 the rest of the way, the Indians would have have to post a record of 18-5 to beat them.
Thursday, Sept. 5— Lead back to 5 1/2 games as Twins loset 6-2 in Boston and Cleveland hung on for an 8-6 win at home over Chicago. For those interested in the magic number — I'm not, it's too early — it didn't change. Jose Berrios, who has an ERA of 5.37 since the All-Star break, had a couple good innings after giving up two homers for a 4-0 deficit after two innings. But these are the facts: Five innings last night, six runs, 101 pitches, and in his six starts in August and September he is 1-3 with an ERA of 8.07. His record since June 6 (90 days), when he was 8-2, is 3-6.That can only be classified as a horrible three months. So help me, if Rocco Baldelli classifies that as a bump in the road . . . Why say that? The other day Jake Odorizzi threw 91 pitches in only five innings and gave up three runs. That's a 5.40 ERA for that game and Baldelli said the next day that Odorizzi "pitched well." That's not my idea of pitching well. He either is Mr. Optimistic or he sugarcoats things with regularity - that's my take. I agree with ex-Twin great Jim Kaat that it was a bad idea to give Berrops an extra day of rest - now he won't be able to pitch against Cleveland this weekend. Then again, maybe that's a good thing. On more thing (and I like Willians Astudillo - he's a great story): A Twins broadcaster said during the game last night that Astudillo is "a hitting machine" after he got a hit. I checked and he's hitting .264. If he's a hitting machine, what does that make Polanco, Arraez, Cruz and Rosario, all hitting well above .264?
Friday, Sept. 6 30 — Lead back to 6 1/2 games. There's an old, old saying, usually referred to about football games, that offense sells tickets and defense wins games. That was the case in a 2-1 win over Boston at storied Fenway Park last night. Eddie Rosario made a unbelievable throw from left field to gun down what would have been the tying run on a play that ended the game. But it wasn't just that play.There were at least four other very good plays on defense by the Twins, especially Jake Cave's diving catch in center field as the Twins won for the 18th time in their last 23 road games. And there were three more scoreless innings by the bullpen, a bullpen that has a 2.15 ERA the past three weeks. The Twins were again iffy with the bases loaded, and they hit into four double plays — but pitching and defense won the game, Martin Perez getting his 10th win of the season, giving the team five pitchers with double-figure wins. Add that result to a 7-1 loss by Cleveland and it was a good day for the Twins, Willians Astudillo knocking in the tie-breaking run with a pinch-hit single in the seventh inning. And now comes the Cleveland series. One note:A couple callers to the post-game radio show Tuesday night said they didn't think the Twins could win the division unless Byron Buxton was playing. I've been hoping he could return to the lineup. But they're 21-11 (.656) without him throughout the month of August and a few days in September.
PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES
Sept. 10, 1959 - There were 1,100 fans at the Princeton Speedway for Labor Day racing. The season was to end Sept. 11 . . . The football team was to open at Rush City, although a couple of would-be starters had dropped out of school and some players hadn't shown up for practice yet.
Sept. 10, 1964 - In the men's leagues at the Rum River Golf Club Tom Peterson and Clem Letich finished atop the National League standings and Howard Gruhlke and Dick Propson finished first in the American League.
Sept. 10, 1969 - Jo Bornholdt won the women's championship at the Rum River Golf Club . . . Steve Johnson of North Branch, a student at the U of M, won the annual shortstop tournament at the local course, shooting 105 for 27 holes.
Sept. 11, 1974 - Thirty-two in grades 9-12 turned out for the second years of girls basketball. The season was to open Sept. 26 at Elk River . . . Princeton won 26-14 at Madison, Minn., in football as Jim Cartwright scored twice and ran for 110 yards.
Sept. 13, 1979 - Princeton beat Mora 20-7 in football as Dave Blaske scored twice and ran for 242 yards . . . Cross-country was revived, after an absence of a year because of a cut by the school board, and the Tiger boys and girls both beat St. Francis and Mora. Doug Burns was the individual winner in the boys race and Lisa Herman was second in the girls race.
Sept. 13, 1984 - Princeton gained only 53 yards in a 14-0 loss to Mora . . . Sophomore Kely Keen had Princeton's only two firsts in a 53-30 loss to St. Cloud Cathedral in swimming.
Sept. 14, 1989 - Quarterback Jason Dierks threw three touchdown passes but Princeton lost 29-18 to Mora . . . Princeton was winless in the first-ever Princeton Cup Volleyball Classic. PHS grad Barb Blomberg, the PHS coach, had previously coached at Holy Angels, which won the title.
Sept. 15, 1994 - Holy Angels beat Princeton in the title match of the Princeton Cup (volleyball). Katie Westling led in kills for PHS with 13 . . . The PHS football team lost 38-0 to Sauk Rapids.
Sept. 9, 1999 - The Princeton Panthers (29-11, a team record for wins, 79-29 the last three years) lost 2-1 to Luverne in the fourth round of the state tournament, Troy Scheffel driving in Brian Dorr with the only run in the seventh inning . . . The girls tennis team beat Forest Lake 4-3, North Branch 4-3 and Mora 5-2, the Forest Lake match a close one that lasted about three hours before a 3-3 tie was broken when Anne Paulson and Kate Meinz won at No. 3 doubles.
Sept. 9, 2004 - Princeton beat Zimmerman 52-0 in its football opener as eight players scored touchdowns and the team had 432 yards . . . The girls tennis team (2-5) beat Sartell 6-1.
Sept. 10, 2009 - The girls tennis team beat Little Falls 5-2 . . . The PHS football team lost 34-27 to Buffalo as turnovers were costly. Wide receiver Brent Miodus had five receptions for 141 yards, quarterback Nick Shodeen threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns, and Adam Swenson ran for 101 yards.
Sept. 11, 2014 - The girls tennis team opened defense of its Mississippi 8 title with 7-0 wins over North Branch and Big Lake, and then beat Hibbing, St. Cloud Apollo and Sartell to win the Apollo Invitational, while losing only 16 games and winning 126. The team was 8-0 in dual matches and 7-0 against other opponents . . . The girls soccer team (5-0) beat Buffalo 2-0 and beat Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 3-0 asEden Betzler got the shutouts.
Sept. 13, 2018 - The PHS volleyball team lost to North branch as Jaydee Green and Haile Mattson each had five kills . . . The girls tennis team got a measure of revenge with a 4-3 win over Buffalo, the team that in 2017 ended Princeton's string of four straight Mississippi 8 titles. The deciding point came on a win by the No. 2 doubles team of Aurora Schossow and Lily Wyluda. No. 1 singles player Kelsey Dorr improved to 14-1 and it was the team's seventh straight win with recent victories over St. Francis, St. Michael-Albertville, Andover, Thief River Falls and Roseville.
Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has covered sports in the Princeton area for 52 years.