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Savaloja: Saturday afternoons at Ernie Gates

A Saturday afternoon playoff game has eluded Ernie Gates Field and Jamestown High School for decades.

The last one? Darin Erstad kicked a 27-yard field goal, bombed a 74-yard punt, intercepted a pass and caught a touchdown against Dickinson on Oct. 26, 1991.

Area sports fans should remember that weekend quite well. Kirby Puckett and the Minnesota Twins were busy beating the Atlanta Braves in a wild seven-game World Series.

Meanwhile, along with Erstad's effort, the Jays' Tim Fletcher scored a 1-yard rushing TD in the closing seconds to help Jamestown power past the Midgets 18-14 in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.

The Blue Jays were scheduled to host Grand Forks Red River in the state semifinals the following Saturday, but wintry weather pushed that contest to Tuesday.

The next Saturday afternoon playoff game scheduled to be played at Ernie Gates Field came in 1994. Mark Ukestad, Jamestown's defensive line coach at the time, can vividly recall that Oct. 29th morning.

"I went bow hunting that morning," Ukestad said. "I got back to my truck around 9 o'clock and I heard on 1400 AM (radio) there was a fire at Ernie Gates."

Ukestad said Jamestown trainer Gene Crabtree had found the Blue Jay football locker room, lovingly referred to as "The Shack," ablaze at around 8 a.m. The Saturday game was moved to Tuesday, where Jamestown beat Mandan 14-0, outfitted with Jamestown College gear.

The Jamestown Sun reported a "faulty ballast in a fluorescent light fixture" as an early culprit to the fire.

"Brad Kerr, the AD at Jamestown College at the time, invited us up and provided us with equipment," said Ukestad, who retired as an assistant coach for the Jays after 25 years in 2015. "All the kids kept their blue jerseys, and I'd say about three-quarters of the team wore orange helmets."

Jamestown High School and Ernie Gates Field went on to host three Class 3A state play-in games—for all intents and purposes, playoff games—in 1999, 2005 and 2007. But all those contests, however, were held on Tuesday nights.

Tomorrow's 2 p.m. postseason tilt against Watford City has been a long time coming for Jamestown. It's only too bad the Twins aren't again in the series, with legendary broadcaster Jack Buck in the booth.

Michael Savaloja

Hometown: Churchs Ferry, N.D.; College: North Dakota

A recipient of the NDHSCA Award of Merit, Savaloja has been reporting sports for The Sun since 2008.

Follow on Twitter: @MichaelSavaloja

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