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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hallowe'en 1991 and the Mavericks

Following a late October storm that buried Mankato
with 20 inches of snow, the Maverick football team
worked to clear Blakeslee Stadium for a game vs. Augustana
This Halloween will mark the 25th anniversary of the worst snow storm to hit the Midwest since November of 1940. 

Overnight on Thursday, October 31, 1991 Mankato was hit by a snowstorm that left almost two feet of snow across Minnesota. The storm kicked off an unusual set of events, including some which wreaked havoc with the Minnesota State football team, which was steaming toward a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

The Mavericks entered the Oct. 31st weekend standing 3-3 in North Central Conference games and was looking for a home win against a University South Dakota side that was 1-6 on the season. That was before the storm hit, making roads impassable as virtually everything in southern Minnesota, along with most everywhere else in the upper midwest, ground to a halt for several days.

And for the first time in the history of the storied NCC, which dated back to the 1921 season, all football games across the conference that weekend were cancelled.

“Trick or’ treaters were done early that night and the snow started falling," said Don Amiot, the Athletic Director for Minnesota State at the time, recalling the onset of the storm. "In the morning we couldn’t get anywhere, everything was shut down.”

A sophomore quaterback named Jamie Pass, a Chicago native who had just transferred from Western Michigan, was new to the area and was about to find out what Minnesota winters were about.  "The highways were closed down because of the storm and no one could move. Canceling football games? I’ve never seen that before,” said Pass.

Unfortunately, Saturday's game vs. the Coyotes would not be rescheduled. The Mavericks had two remaining home games, and although the snow had stopped falling, it was still causing problems. With venerable Blakeslee Stadium still submerged in snow and ice in the following days, almost incredibly it appeared that another crucial home date was in jeopardy. After searching for a Plan B, the DakotaDome in Vermillion, S.D., emerged as a potential site for the Mavericks to "host" it's next opponent, South Dakota State.

The DakotaDome, which ironically is the home field for the University of South Dakota, was busy due to to the fact that is was indoors. But if teams could get there, it was one of the lone facilities in the area that had a playable field.  The Dome was set to host three other football games that afternoon, so the Mavericks and the Jackrabbits would not kick off until after 9:30 p.m.  Serving as the home team and with the department working as it normally did when it ran a home game (the public address announcer, scoreboard and score clock operators, chain gang, press box staff, etc., all travelled from Mankato to Vermillion to work the game), the Mavericks prevailed in the unusual contest, winning 23-0.

The last hurdle to jump in order for the Mavericks to make the NCAA postseason was to find a way to win a final home game against Augustana. This game had originally been scheduled for the UNIDome at the University of Northern Iowa. But, with the entire Maverick football team pressed into snow removal service, work began on clearing Blakeslee Stadium with snow blowers and shovels. Amiot understood that if the University was to use heavy equipment to clear the fields that it could have resulted in damage to the turf. So the job was left to Runkle and the football team and the mission was accomplished.

And although most of the snow from the storm had been cleared from the field, the snow banks created by shoveling led to some interesting plays.

“The sidelines were a mess, the field was soft and you couldn’t play a real football game," said Dan Runkle, who coached the Mavericks from 1981-2001.

The sidelines were packed with snow and big plays were the difference as the Mavericks dispatched the Vikings by a 28-14 margin. The all-important win gave the Mavericks a 7-3 regular season mark and a spot in the postseason, their second such foray into the NCAA tournament under Runkle.

“It was a fun, strange year. To have a game cancelled, another played over two days (the game vs. SDSU in Vermillion didn't end until early in the morning) and make the playoffs.” said Runkle.

Undoubtedly the 1991 season will be remembered as one in which the Mavericks made the NCAA playoffs - one of sixteen teams playing football in the DII postseason. MSU defeated North Dakota State 27-7 in Fargo before falling to Portland State in the quarterfinals in finishing with an 8-4 final record. 

For those that experienced it though, the infamous "Hallowe'een Blizzard of '91", will be hard to forget.

                                                  contributed by Chris Langlois, Athletic Communications intern

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