BLAST: After late skid, good last week yields 2012 Pigskin Pick'ems win!
HERON LAKE -- After skidding badly in Weeks 17 and 18, I recovered with a great final week -- going 6-2 -- and won the 2012 Daily Globe Pigskin Pick'ems contest by a five picks, finishing the season with a record of 132-56 for a new all-time best correct percentage of .702.
That percentage betters the previous all-time best mark of .693 (133-59), which was set by perennial winner Lucas Knutson in 2005.
It also broke a string of three consecutive season victories by Lucas, who rallied with a 5-3 final week and tied rookie sports reporter Jordan Willi for second place in this year's final standings, each with records of 127-61 (.676).
After a slow start, Jordan was closing fast and was within three picks of me going into the last week -- and we had four games predicted differently.
Lucas was down four, but had five different picks.
I could see my hopes for my first title since 2008 slipping away.
Then, when Texas A&M beat Oklahoma and Mississippi defeated Pittsburgh, I was 0-2 in the last week, while Lucas was 2-0 and Jordan was 1-1.
I still had a two-game edge on both, but needed to get some games correct.
Then, the Houston Texans held off the Cincinnati Bengals and I was still up two picks on Lucas, but had a three-game lead on Jordan.
Next came the one-sided game at Lambeau Field, where the Packers defeated the Vikings.
The gang at P&J's Mini Mart in Heron Lake was happy that I had picked the Packers.
"Les picked the Packers, so we're all feeling pretty good about a Vikings' win," P&J's regular Darvin DeBerg told me Saturday afternoon.
I don't blame Darv and the gang. All season long, I got the Vikings wrong.
If I picked them to win, they lost. If I picked them to lose -- as I did the previous week -- the Vikings won, like they did at the Metrodome in the regular-season finale Dec. 30.
But after a game-opening field-goal drive, the Christian Ponder-less Vikings simply didn't compete against the Packers and now I had a three-game lead on Lucas, too.
Then on Sunday, I became a perfect 4-0 on NFL Wild Card games when both the Ravens and Seahawks won, moving me to 4-2 for the week and clinching the season title. Jordan was still down by three and Lucas slipped behind by four (he picked the Colts over the Ravens).
Sunday night, I extended my lead as I luckily guessed Arkansas State to beat Kent State, moving me four ahead of Jordan and five better than Lucas.
The season's final pick was for the BCS National Championship on Jan. 7. Both Lucas and I correctly picked Alabama, while Jordan, Ryan McGaughey and the fans all chose Notre Dame. The 42-14 victory by the Crimson Tide moved Lucas into a second-place tie with Jordan, both five games back of my amazing worst to first improvement.
I finished five games behind fourth-place finisher (a combination of picks between Daniel Kerwin and Jocelyn Syrstad) in 2011, with a 110-70 record for a percentage of .611.
Jordan, Ryan and the fans were all 4-4 in this season's final week. Ryan (121-67, .644) held off the fans (120-68, .638) by one vote to stay out of the cellar. stay out of the cellar.
I recapped the seven preceding seasons (2005-2011) in a "Blast From the Past" on Sept. 21, 2012, as we were making our picks for the fourth week of this season.
Lucas was 23-7 (.767) at the time and had a four-game lead on both Jordan and me, while Ryan and the fans were tied for second, just two games back with 21-9 marks.
But things changed over the course of the season. I had a big 9-1 week in early November and followed that up with six consecutive 7-3 weeks, giving me my largest-ever lead -- eight games over Lucas, nine over Jordan, 12 over Ryan and 19 over the fans -- with a record of 111-39 (.740) on Dec. 21.
Three straight 7-3 weeks by Jordan (21-9) brought him to within three, as I went 15-15 (6-4, 4-6, 5-5) over the same span. Lucas (7-3, 5-5, 7-3) was 19-11 over those three weeks, which brought him to within four picks of me and just one behind Jordan.
Meanwhile, the fans were improving fast as three consecutive 8-2 weeks had them breathing down Ryan's neck.
But our "Chief" -- a veteran of eight seasons of picking games -- came through with an 8-2 week of his own in the 18th week to stay one game in front.
Ryan, who went a perfect 4-0 in the final week to win the Pigskin Pick'ems in 2007, edging Lucas by one pick (126-65 to 125-66), is the only non-Knutson to win the contest.
Lucas won in 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011, while I now have two titles, 2008 and 2012.
But Lucas has never finished below second, while I have -- four times. As people frequently tell me, "your son is better at picking football games than you are."
Maybe, just maybe, I made some progress this year.
We'll see what happens when the 2013 Pigskin Pick'ems roll around next season.
Ken DeWall, Okabena football, basketball
star of the late 1940s
At the end of November, I wrote a "Blast" about the undefeated Okabena High School football team of 1948.
The story of those Bluehawks, who won all seven of their fast-paced, wide-open six-man games that fall, also mentioned some of the players from the previous seasons -- the falls of 1946 and 1947 --which also won conference titles and compiled a two-season overall record of 10-1-1.
A player that I failed to mention was 1948 OHS graduate Ken DeWall.
Not only was Ken a key player (No. 20) on the 1947 Bluehawk football team as a senior, he was a top performer on the varsity basketball team for at least two seasons, including being Okabena's captain in 1948 wearing jersey No. 28.
In DeWall's junior year, the Bluehawks were 15-4 in basketball, including winning the championship of a tournament in Fulda during Christmas vacation, defeating the host Raiders by a 65-25 margin in the finals.
As a senior, DeWall helped Okabena trounce rival Heron Lake, 73-14, in the opening round of the sub-district tournament. The Bluehawks followed that with a 42-40 win over Brewster, a team they had lost to twice (63-50 and 55-34) during the regular season.
"Kenny was a good athlete," remembered teammate Weldon Bayerkohler (OHS, Class of 1949).
"He only played one year of football, but helped us win games that season. He was really a smooth basketball player and was our top scorer and rebounded in most games."
Ken later married Okabena native Alice Ulbricht and the couple had four children -- Steve, Mark, Kathy and Tom -- all of whom graduated from OHS during the 1970s, before the consolidation with Heron Lake.
Tom was the leading scorer and rebounder on Okabena's 1977 District 7 championship team, which defeated Luverne in the Region 2 semifinals and came within one point of a state tournament trip in the regional finals. Tom later played two years of basketball for Worthington Community College and was a Daily Globe photographer during much of the 1980s.
Mark's daughters, Kirsten, Brooke and Connor were all talented all-around basketball players for Southwest Star Concept (Heron Lake-Okabena) High School during the past decade, with both Kirsten and Brooke scoring more than 1,000 varsity career points. Brooke was the leading scorer and rebounder on SSC's 2008 Section 3A championship team, which finished fourth at the state tournament.
A lifelong supporter of Okabena high school teams, Kenny passed away in January 2012. His presence is missed at the local gym.
Edgerton's 1963 team will be remembered in an upcoming "Blast"
While most area basketball fans are familiar with the legend of the 1960 Edgerton Flying Dutchmen -- who rolled through an undefeated season, winning the Tri-County Conference, District 8 Tournament, Region 2 Tournament and the one-class Minnesota State Tournament, many may not know, that four seasons later, there was again basketball fever in the small town in southeastern Pipestone County.
Edgerton had been a near-basketball power several times in the 1940s and 1950s, but had never won a District 8 title.
Then 22-year-old coach Richie Olson came to town and Edgerton won District 8 three times -- 1960, 1961 and 1963 -- in the next four years and never won another.
In 1960-61, expectations were high as the Dutchmen returned three starters from its legendary 27-0 team which thrilled capacity crowds at Williams Arena the previous March.
That team lost twice during the season -- once to Twin Cities power Minneapolis Roosevelt in December (as a Gophers' preliminary game at Williams Arena) and at Luverne in February 1961. The Dutchmen avenged the loss to the Cardinals in a thrilling District 8 championship game and repeated as Region 2 champions with a pair of victories on the Worthington court.
Two seasons later, Edgerton enjoyed its second undefeated regular season -- in four years -- and won its third district title.
Who were the players on Olson's last Edgerton team and how did that season unfold?
Watch for information on "Tonto" and the rest of those 1963 Flying Dutchmen in an upcoming "Blast From the Past."