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Expect more turf football for ND, Minnesota playoffs

The Dakota Bowl high school football championship games in North Dakota have been held indoors, in facilities like the Fargodome, since 1993. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

FARGO — This week in U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, 24 high school football teams will play in 12 state semifinal games on a field with artificial turf. Friday, Nov. 15, in the Fargodome, eight high school teams will play turf football in four state championship games.

Welcome to the modern era of high school football, where more and more games are being played on turf. Expect more of it in the future, especially during playoff time when weather can play havoc with games this time of year in the Upper Midwest.

“As a kid, I always dreamed about getting dirty playing football,” said Bob Madison, an associate director overseeing football for the Minnesota State High School League. “Very rarely do you see anybody getting dirty anymore.”

At least not during the state playoffs in Minnesota, where the unwritten policy is to play quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games on turf fields. Is it possible that North Dakota will adopt such a policy?

Officials with the North Dakota High School Activities Association say there have been no formal discussions about that. But some high school coaches are hinting at the possibility — especially after this fall’s record-breaking rainfall and snowfall created messes on many outdoor fields.

“Maybe for the semifinals,” said coach Joshua Krivarchka, whose Langdon-Edmore-Munich team plays for a Class 1A state title Friday in the Fargodome. “Having home field advantage is great for playoffs, but you also want to play on a good playing surface when you get that far into the season in November. You don’t want to see players slipping and sliding in the mud.”

That’s exactly what happened when Cavalier, which is playing for a 9-man state championship today in the Fargodome, hosted New Rockford-Sheyenne in a Tuesday, Oct. 15, regular-season game. By the time the game ended with Cavalier winning 22-20 in overtime, players were covered in mud from head to toe.

“We got eight inches of rain the week before and then 20 inches of snow on top of that,” said Sandy Laxdal, Cavalier’s head coach for the past 14 years. “I’ve never been in a game where field conditions deteriorated that fast. It was hard on our field.”

So 11 days later, Cavalier opted to play the opening round of it state playoff opener on the turf at Cushman Field in Grand Forks. It gave school officials a chance to drain water off of its field, which hardened up with cold temperatures in time for its quarterfinal and semifinal home games.

“I could see playing semifinal games on turf,” Laxdal said. “I think it has been brought up enough that it could be talked about.”

One day before the “Mud Bowl” in Cavalier, Hillsboro-Central Valley moved its homecoming game to the turf field at Central Cass High School in Casselton, N.D.

“It was not like Cavalier muddy, but we would never have been able to play on our field the rest of the year if we had played that game on our field,” said Hillsboro-Central Valley coach Scott Olsen, whose team plays for a Class 2A state title Friday in the Fargodome. “I think with more and more places in the state getting turf, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to play on turf, maybe in the semifinals. It would be a lot easier to do than it used to be.”

The Dakota Bowl state championship games have been played on turf since 1993 after the Fargodome opened. Some Dakota Bowl games have been played on the Alerus Center turf in Grand Forks. Before that, state title games were played at various outdoor sites.

In Minnesota, the Prep Bowl state championship games have been played on turf ever since the Metrodome opened in 1982. In the last decade, Minnesota started playing its semifinal games on the indoor turf of the Metrodome and now U.S. Bank Stadium.

Ironically, about the time the Fargodome opened, teams from northwest Minnesota started playing their section championship games across the border. There were even some state quarterfinal games played in the Fargodome.

“It just makes sense,” said Barnesville head coach Bryan Strand, whose team plays a Minnesota Class 2A state semifinal game Friday in U.S. Bank Stadium. “It sucked when we were on our field and it was frozen. You don’t want field conditions to determine the outcome of the game.

“With the new turf, it is absolutely a good thing. The old stuff (turf) wasn’t real good just because how long it took for players to recover from playing on it. It was just so hard and it just had no give.”

Madison, the MSHSL director in charge of football, agrees that most of the 130 turf sites available in Minnesota are good surfaces.

“You know it will be a consistent surface and it is a lot easier to clear snow off it,” said Madison, who clarified that it is not a bylaw or board policy that all state playoff games be played on turf. “But about 12 years ago, we pushed to have all those games played on turf. I don’t think it never has not happened that we’ve had one of those games on turf.”