The memories came flooding back for Patrick Lower.
As Lower’s Fulton Steamers make final preparations for Saturday’s first-round football playoff game at Ottawa Marquette, Lower was reminded of the days when Marquette and Fulton played in the Big Rivers Conference a decade ago.
One game between the teams was especially memorable.
It was early in the morning on Friday, Aug. 24, 2007, and Lower was just hours away from making his debut as Fulton’s head coach. The season-opener was scheduled for that night in Ottawa.
If that didn’t bring enough stress for the young coach, things were about to get crazier.
“I remember being so excited, can’t wait, then out of the blue at 8 a.m. on my first day, they call and say we’re not going to be able to play there,” Lower recalled.
Rainstorms in the area had brought the nearby Fox River out of its banks and flooded the field. There was no way the teams could play that night at Marquette’s Gould Stadium.
“We saw a picture of their field, and there was water within a foot of the crossbar,” Lower said. “We decided to play here (in Fulton) on Saturday afternoon.”
Once the teams stepped on the field for that Saturday contest, things didn’t go off without a hitch, either.
“It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon,” Lower said. “What’s funny about is that they got the ball to start the game and fumbled the first snap. We got the ball at about the 20, and I almost froze on my first call. We didn’t capitalize.”
The Steamers did get into the next zone on their next possession, or maybe the one after that,
“I said on the headsets, ‘I’m more relaxed; let’s go,’ “ Lower remembered saying to his coaches in the press box.
Go they did. The Steamers won 48-8, part of a 3-0 start in which they amassed 150 points on their way to a 6-3 regular season, the same record they have this season.
Lower eventually did get to coach the Steamers at Gould Stadium, where he will return for a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday.
“The only things I really remember about it are you dress at the high school and walk about two-and-a-half blocks to the field, and the stands are close to the sidelines,” Lower said. “It’s a cozy atmosphere.”
Lower’s teams went on to beat the Crusaders each of the next three seasons before Marquette finally defeated Fulton 33-18 in 2011, its last year in the Big Rivers.
“Geographically, they didn’t fit in (to what is now the Three Rivers Conference),” Lower said. “It was a tough road trip.”
There were some years where they were fairly competitive, but they had trouble getting kids out. That was the main reason they left.”
The Crusaders now play in the Northeastern Athletic Conference, where they have won three consecutive league titles and four in the past five years.
Their coach, Tom Jobst, also has a local connection. He led the Morrison program from 1980 through 1987 and compiled a 50-28 record with four postseason appearances in those eight seasons.
“Now they have kids out and have a lot of athletes who look like they can play,” Lower said.
He’ll find out Saturday afternoon. Unless, of course, there’s another early-morning telephone call.
Jon Gremmels is sports editor of the Clinton Herald. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.