Gabe Porthan was hunched over, crouched low to the ground, helmet in his hands. One-by-one, teammates approached, some patting him on the back. Senior Ryan Maschka placed his hand on his right shoulder and stood there.
Porthan, a junior, was surrounded by teammates that had played their final snap as a member of the Chanhassen football team. Their 34-7 win over Waconia on Nov. 20 capped the 2020 season with a 6-0 record.
The halftime words of the voice of the Chanhassen Storm, Denny Laufenburger, rang true in that moment. For everything that was lost in 2020, what was gained over the nine-week fall season was needed more than ever.
"Football brought the community together, just like it does today. It seems to me, perhaps to you too, that we need to hold on a little tighter this year. We need high school football to ground us. To remind us the importance of being with friends and family. To cheer for good plays from both teams. Remembering to be grateful of the freedom to experience the ups and downs of life, reflected on the gridiron on Friday night," he said.
While Chanhassen was disappointed to not be able to play Mankato West -- a 22-15 winner over Chaska -- in the section final, the Storm looking for its first section championship, the final game was more than touchdowns and tackles.
It was a celebration.
A celebration of 28 seniors on the Chanhassen sidelines. The sacrifices they gave for their team, shown by crutches, a boot and a scooter. And most importantly, the love they had one another.
Long after the final whistle, players and coaches remained on the field, taking photos, sharing memories, spending one last night together as a team. They earned it, one of six teams across the state in Class 5A to finish the 2020 season with an unbeaten record.
"Friends, this is our life right now. Let's celebrate this one last game of 2020. Years from now we may not remember the score, or who won or lost, but we will always remember our great communities held together with high school football on a Friday night," Laufenburger said.
Playing Waconia for the second time in 15 days, a 34-0 win on Nov. 5, the second time around was a bit tighter at halftime after the Wildcats put together a second-quarter scoring drive culminated by a 2-yard run from Max McEnelly with 26.6 seconds left.
Only a 14-7 advantage for the Storm on touchdown throws of 44 and 21 yards from Riley Funk to Charlie Coenen.
Like the first meeting, a quick score out of the break turned the momentum squarely in the favor of Chanhassen. A kick-off return for a touchdown in the first game, a pick-six interception and score in the second game.
Kurt Schaefer's touchdown came just 16 seconds into the third quarter, suddenly a 20-7 lead.
An advantage that grew by seven points on ensuing drives on an Eli Mau 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down, and a back corner grab from Josh Kirchoff on a perfectly thrown ball from Funk.
Chanhassen, which also got a first-half interception from Cooper Hanson, held Waconia star McEnelly under 100 yards for the second time this season. The Wildcats managed just 106 yards rushing and 4-of-13 passing for 25 yards.