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What D-III and small-school games did you grow up watching?

A trip down memory lane and a fly-over of the Midwest’s other biggest games.

From the moment school let out on Friday afternoons to whenever the clock ran out on the Vikings on Sunday, football mattered to me as a kid. You knew where the hometown high school would be on Friday night—we traipsed around the East Metro from hated St. Thomas Academy to hapless North St. Paul, seven-to-a-car in the backseat of whoever’s parents’ car. Sunday, sure; the Vikings would play and after church, we’d race home to catch the last words of the pregame should before Daunte Culpepper led the Purple and Gold onto the field.

But there was something magical about Saturday.

Obviously, this is preaching to the choir; this is a college football-first blog, after all, where we argue about pigs and jugs and buckets Big Games.

But there were other games that caught my imagination, too.

I grew up in the household of a Tommie—a then-College, now-University of Saint Thomas (St. Paul, MN) alumna—and a Mankato State Maverick, and both parents were always ready to tell me about their college days and bring me to a game. I climbed the bleachers along Cretin Avenue to watch the Tommies beat up some undermatched opponent at O’Shaughnessy Stadium; I heard tales of the hijinks in the stands at Blakeslee Stadium.

And I wore purple for Tommie-Johnnie. The century-old rivalry between the two Catholic schools, St. Thomas (in St. Paul) and St. John’s (an hour up I-94 in Collegeville, just outside St. Cloud), has been played 87 times, with meetings in 67 consecutive years. It packs the Twins’ Target Field when it’s played at a neutral site. This year, it’s coming to Minnesota United’s Allianz Field.

And, if you’ve got someone on either side of the rivalry, you take sides—Tommie purple, or Johnnie red.

It wasn’t a central or formative part of my football fandom—but it was one of those minor, local things that mattered to thousands of people and that still captures the attention of the local media.

And that all came rushing back yesterday when I looked at a job posting at Peru State University, located in scenic Peru, Nebraska:

I learned this morning about Peru State (NE) playing its games at the Oak Bowl. Is there a D-II, D-III, or NAIA matchup, school, story, stadium, etc. in your home state we should know about? Did you have any experience going to small-school games?

WhiteSpeedReceiver: Growing up I used to go to Collegeville on weekends the Gophers were out of town and watch the best coach in the B1G footprint at the time [St. John’s JOhn Gagliardi, pronounced “Gah-lar-dee”] dominate the rest of the crap-ass MIAC. All 150+ guys on the St. John’s roster would see the field on a weekly basis.

[Clemens Stadium] is awesome. The drive up is beautiful in the fall, and it’s actually a natural horseshoe inside a couple hills. I haven’t been up there since the renovations in 1997, but I have to imagine it’s still the best place in the state to watch a game. Go up some weekend and sit on the hill.

Clemens Stadium at St. John’s University
AM 1240 WJON

Thumpasaurus: Time for some Naperville up in here. North Central College, located just beside the heart of downtown Naperville, plays home games in Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium, in the shadow of the very halls where F.L. Maytag once studied (unless they’ve been replaced, i don’t know).

I can’t find any info on Cardinals football, but the Crosstown Classic between the mighty Huskies of Naperville North and the pitiful, bumbling Red(HAWK)s of Naperville Central takes place there.

Most notably, the MLS Chicago Fire played in these friendly confines during their exile from Chicago’s Soldier Field while some idiots landed a big stupid spaceship on top of its glorious classical facade. They played 2002 and most of 2003 in Naperthrill, Thrillinois.

Bears fans will recall that the Monsters of the Midway played 2002 in Champaign, where the team that took its colors from the Fighting Illini paid tribute by following up their 2001 division championship with a 4-12 season.

Creighton M: Let me tell you a little story about my old stomping grounds at Loras College. Loras plays their games in a stadium known as the Rock Bowl, named after the first bowl game played in the stadium: The 1940 Rock Bowl Classic where the Duhawks played the undefeated St. Ambrose Fightin’ Bees to a 0-0 tie.

A rivalry developed after that meeting and the two teams used to play annually for the Victory Bell, but they started playing less frequently when Loras moved from NAIA to D-III and so now they only play every few years or so.

I had the pleasure of playing in one of those games, and we got our asses kicked. I never saw that bell again.

Stewmonkey13: Lol, Loras....The second best IIAC college in Dubuque.

CM: That wasn’t true until like 10 years ago when UD realized they could make an entire team out of those Last Chance U type kids and turned into an SEC team

Stew: ...I wasn’t referring to the football team. My Dad’s a UD seminary alum.

CM: My dorm there was a converted seminary!

Boilerman31 [true to form, here to talk about basketball]: I’ve been to a couple NAIA D2 Huntington University basketball games. The mighty Foresters used to be a regular fixture in the NAIA tournament. The atmosphere was good but no pep band and the crowd was roughly around 700. Of which, most tickets were giveaways for ‘Insert Elementary School Name Here’ night.

I don’t think I’ve been to a college stadium smaller than Ryan Field.

beezer07: To the extent tiny beez ever cared about [University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire] sports, fuck Platteville. Always destroyed the Blugolds.

MNW: I actually went to a number of games in Carson Park, as I wound up marrying a Blugold and being good friends with one of the football players there. UWEC has a really cool stadium by any standard—Carson Park, an old WPA project to boot, is up on a hill surrounded on three sides by an oxbow lake.

Incidentally, it was perfect walking distance from houses on the western fringe of off-campus housing, with perfect backyards and bushes to duck into while...uh...imbibing. And, my high school best friend was in the marching band, which puts on a damn good halftime show.

Watched a couple Blugold wins there, including one over UW-Lacrosse and another (I think!) over St. John’s themselves. It was a high-water mark for the Blugolds, though, who have fallen on some tough times.

Carson Park, home to UW-Eau Claire baseball and football
Volume One Magazine

Stew: There are 3 great rivalries in the IIAC: Simpson vs. Central, Coe vs. Cornell, and Luther vs. wartburg.

I attended several games between the latter two schools, and while the goddamn knights came out on top every time, it was only because they’re a bunch of dirty fucking cheaters. [MNW note: Go Knights!] Fuck wartburg forever. As low as fucking wisconsin. The goddamn worst . Go Norse!

No mention of Carleton and Stolaf?

Jesse Collins: UNO doesn’t have a football team anymore, but I did go to a lot of those football games because why the hell not? It was free with a student ID and they really didn’t even check that by the end.

Where Jesse pretended to care about UNO football
Omaha Athletics

Chadron State boasts graduates Danny Woodhead AND maybe more importantly, Don Beebe. So that’s fun. I think Nebraska-Kearney, Chadron State, and maybe Wayne State are all DII with Peru State, Wayne State, Concordia, Hastings, and Midland as NAIA? I don’t know. Let’s just assume I was a Dana Vikings fan growing up.

Best not-rivalry-but-kinda football game I went to was UNO-UNK where literally every kid knew each other and it was not good football but entertaining to watch somehow. I liken it to Illinois-Northwestern where all the good kids went to Notre Dame and this was what was leftover. Sure, it’s not top flight, but it’s entertaining.

Andrew Kraszewski [after being told to tell me about Grand Valley State]: Yes of course let me regale you about my *checks* Lakers...

LGHF: Didn’t read a thing but assume MNW knows about the famous GVSU lakers super spread offense that won them some titles 2007-2012 ish.

Birthed us some guy named...
Brian Kelly.

AK: When in actuality I grew up 15 minutes away from the venerable alma mater of one Jeff Janis, THE Saginaw Valley State University. I never went to a single game, but the Lions used to hold their training camp there, so one season I went and watched a scrimmage against I think the Panthers.

Scott Mitchell blew me off for a high five.

Tbh the Arthur Hill/Saginaw High games were miles more entertaining, especially considering Charles Rogers was in high school when I was in middle school. If you thought he was incredible in college...mein gott.

Candystripes: Everyone in Indiana knows the major rivalry outside the D1 schools is the Monon Bell game between Wabash and DePauw!

And of course, we all took time out to remember...

Creighton: For some reason I really fucking hate UW Oshkosh, but I can’t put my finger on it.

WSR: Me too! It must be in the water here or something.

This is hardly, though, an exhaustive list. We didn’t even mention longtime Ohio football power Mount Union, completely neglected Don’t Watch This; Watch That favorite, the Black Hills Brawl, haven’t acknowledged the D-III dominance of UWs Whitewater and Oshkosh.

So you tell us—what D-III and other lower-tier football did you grow up watching? If we’re ever passing through your fair region in football season, what should we know to watch?

Have a great Friday.