Lights, turf, action!

Seniors enjoy one game at upgraded stadium


October 20, 2023

Dave Harwig

The Lumberjacks varsity football team plays the first and last home football game Wednesday night on brand-new turf at the renovated Members Cooperative Credit Union Stadium.

The seniors on the Cloquet football team gathered at midfield after Wednesday's regular season finale. Stinging from a 44-7 loss in the rain to North Branch, they were already wet but soaking in the moment, too.

"It's just incredible," senior wideout Cooper Ellena said. "Brand-new facility; we were so excited. Tough game, though, but it was fun. They're a tough, good team. We were just excited to be on this new field."

The football reveal of Members Cooperative Credit Union Stadium came a day after the boys and girls soccer teams clinched state berths on the artificial turf.

Confronted with a heavy dose of rain Wednesday, the turf held up strong, draining the onslaught of water and allowing senior night to proceed with moms, dads and guardians joining their seniors on the field before kickoff.

Assistant high school principal Tim Prosen, the head track and field coach whose program will benefit from a new rubberized track and fresh throwing and jumping pits, joined his son, senior Emmet Prosen, in the celebratory procession.

"I was really worried it wouldn't happen," the administrator said. "My son's a senior. It's really special to have this game. We found out at about 10 o'clock Monday morning that we had the go-ahead."

Madysen Waters was one of several seniors packing the front of the grandstands, sporting a fully pink outfit in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Waters cheered her guts out, and had been to every one of the team's "home" games in Proctor throughout the season.

"I didn't think we were ever going to be out here actually playing on it," she said. "Driving by it every day on the way to school, I just wished we were out on this field. So, it's really exciting to be back at home on our own terms. It looks so good. They did a really nice job."

North Branch won its seventh game in a row during the contest, with the Vikings displaying physical dominance throughout the game. Running an option attack with three running backs behind the quarterback, they jumped to a 22-0 lead before the first quarter was over, never looking back.

While the Vikings proved to be more physically mature, the Lumberjacks had their moments - many of them senior-driven.

The team got sacks from seniors Carter Horvat and Warren Hietala. They got a pretty 21-yard sweep from a rushing Prosen, and junior quarterback James Wilmot found some rhythm passing short to Ellena.

Hietala figures to be the answer to a trivia question: who was the first Lumberjack to score on the new Members Cooperative turf? Why, it's Hietala, who scampered around left end for a 26-yard score early in the fourth quarter. Ellena kicked the extra point.

"It's a statement for our community," head coach Jeff Ojanen said. "We had a lot of people who worked hard to get to this point and to have a dream to make sure this gets done for our kids - not only this year, but for the future. And not only just for our football and soccer teams and our track, this is for our student body and a place where we can come out and use it more than a few times a year when it's dry enough. It was special."

The unveiling of the turf and video scoreboard drew a modest crowd that was certainly diminished by the rain showers. But those that did come got to see an attractive product. The turf features vibrant purple end zones and resplendent colors throughout the sponsor's logos. The field alternates every 5 yards between stripes of pea green and evergreen turf for an added striated effect.

An alum of Cloquet, Ojanen told his players that years from now they'll remember being together more than they'll recall the score.

"It's cool to see this," he said. "I had a lot of fun tonight; the score wasn't what we wanted, but it was a lot of fun."

Cloquet will play at Grand Rapids at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a 7AAAA quarterfinal game. Cloquet is fifth seed to No. 4 Grand Rapids.


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