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State football playoffs not unfamiliar to Lake Park or Audubon

Audubon halfback Dean Eilertson (32), gathers in a pass from quarterback Danny Kohler in the Zephyrs' dramatic 44-40 come-from-behind win over Laporte in Detroit Lakes in the State Nine-Man semifinals in 1975.1 / 3
McIntosh-Winger's Coby Burslie (white uniform) rushes the ball upfield as Lake Park's Todd Sayler (42)?gets blocked by a Scots' lineman. The block sprung Burslie for a 44-yard touchdown run, which gave McIntosh-Winger an early 6-0 lead in the 1979 Nine-Man State quarterfinals, which was played in Lake Park. The Scots prevailed 16-12.2 / 3
Audubon legendary head coach Joe Silovich watches his Zephyrs play in the 1975 State Nine-Man semifinals.3 / 3

LAKE PARK - The Lake Park-Audubon football team is entering new territory after qualifying for the Class 1A state playoffs for the first time in the cooperative's history, but neither of the two communities are strangers to the state football playoffs.

There was quite the rivalry between the Lake Park Parkers and the Audubon Zephyrs during the days of the Nine-Man Agassiz Valley Conference.

Each time the Parkers and Zephyrs met, it was sure to be a close game and back in the mid to late 1970s, it possibly meant a trip to the state playoffs.

"It was a close rivalry," said former Lake Park head coach Mike Levin. "It was very intense for the players, coaches and fans. There was a lot of shenanigans going on pre-Homecoming games those days. The games were always tough, too."

That proved to be the case in the 1975 matchup between the two teams, as both squads were perched atop the conference standings.

That year, Audubon made a habit of coming from behind, and it started with a 32-30 win over Lake Park after trailing 30-20.

The Zephyrs scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, which included a 30-yard scoring pass from QB Danny Kohler to Brad Krueger, followed by a Krueger three-yard plunge with just ticks left in the game.

"We played a lot of close games that year," said Detroit Lakes head football coach Flint Motschenbacher, who was a senior lineman for Audubon in 1975. "We had a good offense and good skill people and a balanced team."

That win proved to be very key in Audubon's bid for its first-ever state berth. The state playoff system started only a few years before, and only four teams would qualify from each class (five classes, including Nine-Man) based on computer rankings.

Audubon lost to Rothsay late in the season, thus pulling Lake Park into a tie in the conference, with each having a 7-1 record.

But the head-to-head win by Audubon was the tiebreaker, thus propelling the Zephyrs to the conference championship against the North's Ada-Borup.

"Every year, the conference was tough and beating Lake Park that year gave us the tiebreaker," said then-Audubon running back Dean Eilertson, who now resides in DL. "The rivalry with Lake Park was a big deal. (Audubon) head coach Joe Silovich would build it up during the week of practice.

"He always said, 'Be tougher and hit harder.'"

The conference championship against Ada-Borup was a dogfight, as well, with the Zephyrs winning a hard-fought 36-32 game.

Krueger had four TDs in the game, while Eilertson had a 10-yard TD run.

"That was a battle royal," Eilertson recalled. "Even at the end of the game, there was a huge fight in the stands (among the fans)."

The win was good enough to tip the Zephyrs into the top four computer rankings, setting up a state semifinal tilt against Laporte, which was held on what is now Mollberg Field in Detroit Lakes.

Even though the state playoffs were a relatively new thing, the town of Audubon was still in a lather.

"We would be watching the rankings every week," Motschenbacher said. "It was a fun year."

The next Zephyr comeback came against Laporte in a wild ending for a 44-40 win for Audubon, which scored 28 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to erase a 30-16 deficit.

The winning score by Audubon came on a seven-yard pass from Kohler to tight end Chuck Svare, with only six seconds left to play.

Laporte looked to have sealed the victory with a touchdown with just 36 seconds left to play, to take a 40-36 lead.

But the Zephyrs marched 50 yards on four passing plays, including a 20-yarder to Eilertson, a 14-yarder to Krueger and another seven-yarder to Krueger to set up Audubon on the seven, and that resulted in the game-winning pass to Svare.

Mike Tomlinson hauled in the two-point conversion pass from Kohler for the 44-40 capper.

Krueger finished the game with 112 yards, while Kohler had 255 yards passing on an 18-32 night, with three touchdown passes.

"That last play was a very well-executed play," Eilertson said. "We faked the dive and Svare broke open in the corner of the end zone."

Motschenbacher said that comeback was the obvious highlight of the year.

"We did what we had to do to win," Motschenbacher said. "We didn't like losing."

The state championship game against Ruthton in Cottonwood didn't go as well, as the Vikings shot off to a 28-6 lead and eventually, the 42-20 win.

"My worst memory in that game was I dropped a pass which would have gone for a touchdown," Eilertson said with a laugh. "But finishing second out of 64 nine-man teams at the time, was a pretty good finish."

For the Parkers that year, it was a bittersweet season. They finished 7-1, along with Audubon. They outscored their opponents by a 260-160 margin, while outgaining them 2,295-1,340 yards.

Lake Park running back Joel Mattson was honored as an all-state selection after gaining 1,014 yards on the ground.

"It was a nice season, but we lost to Audubon and lost the tiebreaker," Levin said. "That could have been us playing in the state championship."

In 1977, the Parkers again were co-champions, this time with Hillcrest, who also won the tiebreaker and went on to finish as state-runners up that year.

But finally in 1979, Lake Park got their just due.

The Parkers clinched the South Agassiz Valley title with a 16-0 win over Rothsay, which was undefeated 6-0 at the time.

The overall conference title was sealed with a 38-12 win over Mount St. Benedict of Crookston, with running back and all-state selection Bob Michaelson scoring twice, including a 55-yard interception return.

"We had a lot of good players that year, we were well-rounded," Levin said.

It was the first year the state was lengthened to three rounds, with the Parkers facing McIntosh-Winger in the quarterfinals, which was played in Lake Park.

"There was a lot of excitement in the town," Levin said of his team making the state. "I just remembered trying to tone down the guys and remind them they are here to play a football game."

Unfortunately, the state run was short-lived, with a 16-12 loss to McIntosh-Winger. Highlights included Michaelson running back a 50-yard punt return and Doug Kappes scoring on a one-yard rushing play for LP's only score.

Now, almost 30 years from the Lake Park state berth and 33 years from Audubon's trip to the state championship game, the two communities are sharing that same state feeling.

"I give a lot of credit to the LP-A coaches and kids to get as far as they have," said Motschenbacher, who has been a part of four state championship teams in DL. "Hopefully they can finish it off now."

Levin said he saw that team unity early this fall, when the players came out for a golfing function at his Green Valley Golf Course in Lake Park.

"They worked together as a team, and that's where I saw it already," Levin said. "If they can stick together and keep it simple and just go out and play football, they will be just fine."

Yes, the feeling of playing in the state football playoffs may be a little familiar for Lake Park and Audubon --now together -- but that electricity has now been turned up twofold as the Raiders try and push forward to the Class 1A state championship.