Snow Problem? If conditions play a role Friday, Pirates comfortable they can handle them

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Field conditions played a role in Crookston's 16-6 win over Otter Tail Central in 2019. They could play a role again in the Pirates' rematch with the Bulldogs Friday evening at Ed Widseth Field.

Jaxon Wang can't really explain what makes practicing in inclement weather more enjoyable than normal. It just ... is.

"I don't know," the Crookston senior said Wednesday. "I feel like we come together more as a team having fun practices in the snow ... I just feel like we get more stuff done."

Tuesday brought the first snowfall of the season across much of Minnesota, Crookston being one of many cities covered by a few inches of fine white powder. Plenty of it fell during the Crookston football team's practice that afternoon.

For Pirate head coach Scott Butt and rest of the coaching staff, it wasn't the most pleasant addition to practice. But for the players, moving around and working as the snow fell, it was a different story — especially because the temperature stayed around a relatively warm 30 degrees.

"Kids were like, giggling about it, having a good time," Butt said. "They thought it'd be really cold, and it wasn't. It was really nice out. ... It's not something you get to do every day. I think it does make it a little bit more enjoyable for the kids, because you think about back to when you were a little kid, you went out and played in the snow. It makes everybody a little kid again."

Maybe that's the explanation Wang was going for.

In part, at least. But that wasn't the only reason why he and his team were excited Wednesday when they looked ahead to Friday's game against Otter Tail Central.

Butt said that the Bulldogs — who have a pair of defensive tackles that tip the scales at a combined 600 pounds — in many ways resemble West Central Area/Ashby, which bulldozed Crookston, 24-6, on Oct. 9. While the Knights (3-0) look like a better team than the Bulldogs (they beat them 30-18 on Oct. 3) at this juncture of the season, the similarities between the two mean Crookston is in for a challenge Friday no matter what.

But if Ed Widseth Field isn't in the most pristine condition thanks to Tuesday; if the temperature slips low enough, or if any more rain, sleet or snow falls, the Pirates feel they'll have the advantage.

When precipitation of any kind, including snow, meets field, the field usually comes out worse for wear, even once the snow is shoveled off. Down the stretch last season, Crookston found this out first-hand.

For the regular-season finale at home — which also came against Otter Tail Central — Ed Widseth Field was little more than a swamp thanks to a series of winter storms which came early, while the Pirates also played in a mudpit in Roseau. They won both games, 16-6 and 16-8 respectively.

Crookston fancies itself a smashmouth team. Its style isn't particularly sexy or high-flying — the Pirates want to play down in the trenches and scrap and claw for everything they get. The conditions they've gotten used to dealing with in recent history almost force teams to play that way, so it only makes sense that Crookston would embrace a slug-it-out mentality to match.

"I think it's definitely gonna be more of a ground-and-pound situation (against Otter Tail Central)," said senior Zach Brown. "At this point, I'm not really 100 percent sure how they're gonna come out, but we just need to be ready to go."

If you're trying to pinpoint the root of Crookston's success when conditions get ugly, you might not have to look farther than its practice field. It's a 100-yard patch of grass marked off behind the CHS tennis courts that reacts to snow and rain more than it repels them.

"Our practice field is not the greatest," Wang said. ... "Most teams are not prepared for (muddy fields). When we played Roseau on their muddy field last year, they weren't prepared for that, and we kind of were."

And just how have the Pirates prepared for what they might see Friday?

"Lot of short, choppy steps," said junior lineman Brooks Butt. "As a line, we just gotta remember that. Just making sure that you keep your footing and keep your hips under you, and make sure that when you put your foot in the ground, you gotta make sure it's in the ground."

Crookston's head coach has been prescient in this regard. After the Otter Tail Central mudfest last year, Butt noted how much his team liked to play on tough fields. On defense, the Pirates were able to hold their ground that much better. On offense, they were still able to run the ball, and showed an ability to stop and cut through the mud.

"As the weather gets cooler and we might get some moisture, I think we're really built for pounding the ball down the field," Butt said three weeks ago.

Friday, it will be time to find out if that still holds true.

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