Doug Patnode has seen a lot of good football games during his 40 years as a coach with the Princeton High School football program.
He’ll be the first to admit that he’s seen the Tigers in some not-so-good games, too.
But one thing Coach Patnode has never seen is the Tigers competing in a state tournament game in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
That will all change at 4:30 p.m. Friday when the Princeton Tigers take on the Fire from Holy Family Catholic High School.
Patnode, an assistant coach for the Tigers under Head Coach Roy Hanenburg, served as the Princeton head coach for 30 years and has been an assistant for 10. He led the Tigers to a handful of state tournaments, but his teams never advanced past the quarterfinals. The Tigers made school history on Saturday, earning a trip to the Dome following a 34-31 four-overtime win over Detroit Lakes at St. Cloud State University. The win also gives Patnode that once-elusive opportunity to coach under the Dome.
Patnode recalled the moment when he knew the Tigers were heading for downtown Minneapolis. It was following a two-yard touchdown run by Austin Feero.
“I saw him disappear into the line – and then I caught just a glimpse of his jersey on the other side,” Patnode said. “I knew we were in.”
Patnode, a man who will be the first to admit that he keeps his emotions in check, said he felt pure exhilaration and joy.
“I threw my headset in the air and tossed my power pack,” Patnode said.
He jogged out onto the field and congratulated as many of his players as he could. He shook hands with some players. He hugged others. He even shared an emotional embrace with Hanenberg near midfield.
“It was a little more of an emotional demonstration than you might expect from me,” he said.
But heck, when you’re going to the dome you’re allowed to throw all conventional behavior out the door, right?
“I’ve gotten to the quarterfinals, but never advanced beyond that. That happened several times,” Patnode recalled.
“We got to the door, but not to the next step. That’s why this is a real treat,” he said.
In a 40-year coaching career, a trip to the state semi-finals was the only thing Patnode says he real hasn’t experienced.
“The win Saturday was particularly special for that reason,” he said.
But not as special as the turnaround he has seen in the boys he has helped coach this season. The Tigers were 1-26 during their last three seasons, including two consecutive 0-9 seasons in 2010 and 2011.
Patnode doesn’t know why the boys have seen a turnaround, going 4-4 in the regular season and then scoring 153 points on their way to winning four straight playoff games.
“But there were qualities,” he said. “I saw in them the talent. The pieces.”
But having the pieces isn’t sufficient. The pieces have to come together to form a whole, he said.
“Those pieces came together during the playoff game at Hermantown,” Patnode said.
Patnode believes in this group of football players, especially since the Hermantown game. He’s not surprised that they’re winning football games, but he is surprised at how well the team, as a whole, is executing its game plan.
“This team defies description in so many ways,” he said.
Patnode’s experience coaching the Tigers in the Dome, come Friday, very well could defy description, too.
Jeff Hage is the editor of the Princeton Union-Eagle. Reach him by e-mail at [email protected]