That big one, which opened a lot of spectators' eyes, set the stage for the final between Marshall and Cloquet, who had routed Bloomington in the first round and turned back a courageous bid by Sauk Center in the semi-final. Pre-tourney favorites, the Lumberjacks were firmly established as the class of the tournament.
But there were many basketball-wise observers who did not agree. One man, an assistant in the Minnesota athletic department, called the Tigers the 'soundest team in the tournament and perhaps the best coached. They play that sound, basic basketball that pays off if you have the players who will stay with it.'
It would be hard to imagine a game with more drama and tension. Marshall's coach Glenn Mattke and Cloquet's Ben Trochil come from the same little town of Morton near Redwood Falls. They are good friends. Cloquet, the darlings of the tournament, were the speedsters and shot-making wizards, while the Tigers depended on deliberate pattern play and rebounding, and great shooting, both in close and from outside. Again the Tigers went into a zone defense but the Cloquet sharpshooters, Dave Meisner, and Mike Forrest, cut that to ribbons with their uncanny marksmanship. Marshall went back to their man-to-man. In the first quarter Cloquet sprinted to a 16-9 lead but Marshall played it cool With Porter, Johnson, Nefstead and Schroeder doing most of the scoring, the Tigers pulled into a 22-21 margin at the end of the scorching first period. It was all knotted up at 43-43 at half time and the spectators realized they were seeing a classic.
In the third period Meisner drew his fourth foul and went to the bench, a break that may have been the turning point in the ball game. The Tigers went to work and built up an edge of six points at one time in the third quarter, only to see the lumberjacks come firing back to knot it at 59-59. But Porter swished one just before the end of the quarter to make it 61-59 for Marshall. From there on it was tooth and nail all the way. Marshall hit beautifully in the first few minutes of the final period and with a bit more than 5 minutes to go held a lead of 66-59. But at that point Cloquet scored six straight points, two of them on steals by Meisner, to bring it back to 66-55. The Lumberjacks actually took the lead at; 70-69 with a little over 2 minutes to play. And with 15 seconds left, and Cloquet leading at 74-73, it looked dark for the Marshall changes.
But big Dennis Schroder drew a one-and-one foul under the bucket. With the tension so thick it could be sliced with a knife, and the arena almost silent, the redhead lefty walked to the line for the make or break. His first shot was off a triffle, hit the rim and bounced back through the hoop. His next one swished the nets for as fine a pressure performance, as anyone is likely to see. But Cloquet was far from finished. They immediately went for a time out and set up a play. They had 15 seconds to make it work. They had a good run at it and missed it only by a hair. Mike Forrest, the best driver the Lumberjacks have, who had already scored 29 points, drove for the bucket, guarded by John Nefstead, who had to worry about fouling. Forrest got the shot off but it rimmed the hoop and flipped out. That was the ball game. With only a few seconds left, the rebound was tied up. Cloquet got the jump but time ran out on them before they could get clear.
The jam-packed arena exploded as fans realized that the classic battle was over. Mike Forrest, the all-state football star and a tremendous performance in all tournament games, lay flat on his face on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.
Yogi Nefstead had his arms around little Dave Meisner, who was also weeping. And John Croft, Minneapolis Tribune photographer, recorded that scene in a memorable picture that appeared the Tribune's Sunday paper.
Marshall reserves and fans, and cheerleders swarmed onto the floor to mob their champions. And there was more than one Marshall player escorting a disconsolate Cloquet boy off the floor with an arm about his shoulders.
A coach who has nothing but praise for the performance of both teams, summed it up: 'No boy should have to lose a game like that.' Most fans agreed with him. After the pandemonium had simmered down a little, the trophies were presented, including individual trophies to members of the teams.
The all-state players were announced and were presented to the fans and photographers. Marshall placed three men on the honor squad, Terry Porter and Loren Johnson, the brilliant guards, and John Nefstead, who led the tigers' scoring for the game and was a tower of strength on the boards.
Thus the Tigers, who had been almost completely overlooked in the pre-tournament dope, won the state title as they had won their district and regional crowns - with refusal to wilt under fire, near - flawless execution of their patterns and defensive assignments - and superb coaching from Glenn Mattke.
The championship is the first in the history of Marshall high school, in three trys at it. It is the first state title for Region 3 since Glencoe turned the trick in 1931, 32 long years ago. In 10 years of high school coaching, it has been Mattke's first district championship, his first regional title and, of course his first state crown.
The champions came home on Sunday afternoon to the biggest welcoming celebration ever staged in Marshall. Police estimated over 5,000 people on hand, including television and photographers from Twin Cities and area newspapers."
"TIGERS WIN STATE"
Headline from the Lyon County Independent: "The state tourneys are all over and the Tigers have emerged the champion for the first time in the school's history. Such a feat is plenty to be thankful for, but I wonder how many expressed that gratitude. Apparently Mattke believes his team knows who to thank. The victorious coach pointed out at the convocation after the whole thing was over that it had been brought to his attention that the team personnel were good church members. An insignificant fact, maybe, but an important one nonetheless. Perhaps future varsity members should keep it in mind. Although Mattke raised his team in more ways than one, gratitude was expressed in his directions also. In particular, I'm referring to Whitey Johnson when he called Mattke the greatest man he had ever known. The statement helped clarify the closeness of the team who put aside differences during the year and worked together. Terry Porter once called the squad 'one big happy family.'
Yogi made it clear when he stumbled up to the mike and kind of chokingly expressed his desire to come back again next year. Although it is totally impossible, I bet Mattke shared that wish.
As some will tell you, even though I am just a 'chartkeeper,' I'll miss the champs too. Because they were true champions, they weren't big-headed. I feel that I was part of that big, happy family and I'll never forget it. During football season Mr. Huginin pointed out that friendships made within a team will last a long time and never be forgotten. I can remember some of the group turning real blue at the end of the final game because it meant the last time working together as a unit. Nobody showed the effects at the final gun of the basketball season. At least, not in outward appearances, but I wonder how they felt deep down inside. I'm sure it was the same. Perhaps, the fans felt close to the team also. At least, they did toward Mattke. I understand he got 13 votes for mayor in the city elections. Maybe the eight of this year's squad members coming back have plenty to look forward to with a chance to do it all over again, but they cannot forget this year. The experience at the tourneys, the publicity in the big papers, the home welcoming and the many banquets that they are still enjoying. Imagine how the eight opponents in the tournaments envy this year's state champions.
(continued next week)