I wasn’t even supposed to be there.
Earlier in the day, I made up my mind which event I was going to cover Tuesday night. I decided that I would go out to Watertown and cover the Watertown-Mayer girls soccer team as they opened up Section 6A play against Rockford. It had been a while since I’ve been to one of their games, so I figured that event was my best choice for an event to cover that night.
It seemed like a good choice. The Royals played well on their way to a convincing 4-0 victory over the Rockets. I had my photos. I did my interviews. It was time to go and write my story.
After I cover a game, there’s always the decision of where I want to go to write my story. Do I go back to the office and work without distractions as I have the whole office to myself? Or do I come home and open the laptop and get to work?
I elected to head home as it already had been a long day of work. As I was heading south on Highway 25 coming into Mayer, I saw that the lights surrounding the football field were still on. I knew it was Tuesday so there wasn’t any football going on, but then I remembered the Mayer Lutheran/Watertown-Mayer boys soccer team had a home playoff game Tuesday, as well.
Fortunately for me, I live less than two blocks away from Mayer Lutheran High School. With the lights still on, I decided to swing into the parking lot, check out the score, and see if the game was still going. At worst I thought the coach and players would still be there and I could get a few quotes to go with their article this week.
It turned into much more. I pulled into the parking lot to see the scoreboard still on, the crowd still in the stands, and the players still on the field. The scoreboard read 2-2 with 10 minutes on the clock. They were just about to start the second overtime period. Talk about good timing.
As I walked onto the field, I saw Mayer Lutheran senior Eli Johnson. I asked him if this was the first or second overtime period to catch up on things. He told me it was the second, so I knew I showed up right in time.
I walked down the sideline a little further and ran into Mayer Lutheran’s athletic director, Kris Gustin. Gustin gave me a quick lowdown on what had happened so far in the game, and then was off to cover my second event of the night.
Neither Mayer Lutheran or Maranatha were able to push across a goal in either overtime period, sending the game to a shootout. This would be the first postseason shootout I’ve ever covered in my sports writing career, and it didn’t disappoint.
As both teams prepared for the shootout, I noticed senior Brady Harnung having a moment with his older brother, TJ, before taking the field. The two were in an embrace as only brothers can do, and I can only imagine the words that were shared between the two.
Harnung then took the field for the shootout as Maranatha Christian Academy had the first shot. Harnung made the save on the first shot attempt he faced, but then the Mustangs found the back of the net on their next two attempts.
Through three rounds, the Crusaders trailed Maranatha 2-1. That’s when Harnung seized the opportunity.
A save by Harnung on Maranatha’s fourth attempt gave the Crusaders life. The Crusaders took advantage as they tied things up at two with a goal of their own, leaving one shot left for each team.
Needing just one more save to keep his high school career going and his team’s season alive, Harnung came through. His third save of the shootout gave Mayer Lutheran’s next shooter a chance to win it. Who was the next shooter? None other than Harnung himself.
As Harnung put the ball down on the grass for Mayer Lutheran’s final kick in the shootout, the student section was going crazy. As Harnung stepped away from the ball to get ready, he calmly told the student section to quiet down. They did just that, but not for long.
Harnung found the back of the net for the game-winner, completing the comeback for Mayer Lutheran in dramatic fashion.
As the ball found the back of the net, Harnung let out a scream of joy, only to be mauled by his teammates, coaches, and peers, as this was his moment.
I wasn’t suppose to be there. I already did my job for the night. I was ready to head home and possibly get to bed at a decent time for once. That didn’t happen and I’m forever thankful.
I’ve had the pleasure of covering so many great teams and athletes over the course of my sports writing career. There’s been state titles won, buzzer beaters, and impressive performances throughout. Harnung and the ML/W-M boys soccer team gave me another one of those moments that I will never forget.
If you’ve been following my work over the course of the past four years here at Herald Journal, you know what I think of sports. For some, sports are simply a game. For me, it’s the ultimate parallel to life. It’s more than just a game.
I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for sports. They offer so many things. Whether it’s dealing with success and failure and translating that to the real world, or being in a moment where you can rise about yourself to create a moment so pure and so beautiful you can’t help but get lost in it.
Sports are a special thing. I’ll never forget that, and I’ll never forget what I saw Tuesday night – only because the lights were still on as I drove home.
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.