By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
The roar of thousands of people cheering a pair of touchdowns by the Maverick offense and a trio of interceptions by the MSU defense echoed through the neighborhoods north of Blakeslee Stadium Saturday afternoon.
It was an unprecedented December sound in Mankato, Yuletide crowd noise generated by the Maverick football team's year-long winning streak. The attendance of more than 3,000 was boosted by a relatively balmy 46-degree day and the end of the Thanksgiving break for students.
The Maverick side of Blakeslee wasn't full, but it was seriously crowded with fans rooting for their 12-0 football team to advance past the quarterfinals of the Division II national tournament. There were students, local football fans, MSU alums, players' families, Swedes ... .
"It's awesome," said Frederick Hyttsten of Uppsala, Sweden, sitting high above the 20 yard line.
"They've got a great mentality," Hyttsten said of the Mavericks. "... They don't take skitande from anybody."
Hyttsten didn't actually say "skitande," using instead the common English word for what the Mavericks don't take from anybody. And he didn't travel from Uppsala specifically for Saturday's playoff game. But he did enroll at MSU only after looking into the quality of the football played there.
"One of the reasons I came here was because of the awesome football team," said Hyttsten, a freshman majoring in athletic training.
He picked well -- arriving on campus for the most successful year of football in MSU history.
Hyttsten's seatmate, fellow-freshman Joel Randall of Savage, missed last week's second-round playoff win because of the Thanksgiving break. Randall was thrilled to get a chance to see them this week. His only complaint midway through the 1st quarter was that the return of the students hadn't ramped up the enthusiasm even further.
"This crowd needs to get a little more into it," he said.
Fan energy and confidence steadily grew, though, as the Maverick defense stiffened after a porous start -- holding Missouri Western State University to three points at the end of a long drive. The Maverick offense followed with a 66-yard drive and a tying field goal.
After another defensive stop, the Mavericks went on offense from their 9 yard line and an MSU student had some advice for the large contingent of opposing fans across the field.
"Watch this 90-yard drive Missouri Western!" he hollered, only to have a fellow student -- probably a math major -- offer a correction.
"Actually 91!," the first student clarified at the top of his voice. "Watch this 91-yard drive!"
And so they did. The Mavericks polished off the 90 yards -- oops, 91 yards -- in under three minutes, capped by a 20-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jon Wolf.
Missouri Western tied the game at 10 early in the 3rd quarter, but the tense second half became a celebration when the Mavericks drove 80 yards for the game's final score with 3:16 left. The drive started with a 20-yard pass from Wolf to Jeff Burns, who happens to be the favorite Maverick of a foursome of fans at Blakeslee: John, Eunice, Brian and Kelsey Burns of Circle Pines.
They've been coming to the games ever since their son, brother and brother-in-law joined the team, parents John and Eunice even hitting all the home games when Jeff was redshirted and didn't play a down.
Eunice Burns said the success of the Mavericks is obvious to her.
"They each step up at their time," she said. "It's not about one guy. It's about the talent of so many guys. It's a true team."
But then Kelsey Burns recounted a comment from a Maverick alum she knows, one who attended MSU when wins were rare, one who was shocked by the undefeated season.
"He said, "When I was there, they hardly won a game. What happened?'" Kelsey Burns said.
Then she and her mother-in-law laughed as they shouted out the answer together: "Jeff Burns!"
Paul Hanson also traveled from a Twin Cities suburb to attend the game. The Eden Prairie resident made the drive to his alma mater repeatedly this year after spending the last 20 years headed in the opposite direction -- to Minneapolis.
"I am a recovering University of Minnesota Golden Gopher fan," said Hanson, who switched his allegiance to Division II football after more than two decades as a Gopher season-ticket holder.
"Certainly it's a different level of play," he said. "But the basics and the enthusiasm are the same -- and in some ways better because of the intimacy."
For some fans at Saturday's game, it was their first look at the Mavericks this season.
Gary Nickels, 66, of Mankato is a sports fan and he decided to attend after hearing how good the local team was. He was glad he did.
"Outstanding," Nickels said. "Both defense and offense. And what they had to go through with the head coach, what they accomplished is amazing. They show a lot of class."
Nickels said the warm December weather -- the high reached 50 degrees by late afternoon -- helped persuade him to attend Saturday. If the NCAA awards the Mavericks another home game next week, he said he'll be back -- even with forecasts predicting temperatures about 20 degrees colder.
If the NCAA decides the Mavericks will have to travel next week, Hyttsten may have watched his last Maverick game from the Blakeslee bleachers. Next year, he said he hopes to be on the field.
And he's not talking about serving as a trainer. Hyttsten said he wants to be a player.
No skitande. Hyttsten said he played seven years as an inside linebacker for a club team back in Sweden.
'I'm going to go to try-out," he said.