Minn. State turns coaching mess into perfect year


Minn. State turns coaching mess into perfect year

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) It's been a season of heartbreak and hope, adversity and achievement, stunning in both the worst and best of ways.

And it's not over yet for Minnesota State, Mankato.

The team, which saw its season begin with the head coach being arrested on child pornography charges, advanced to the NCAA Division II semifinals with a 17-10 victory over Missouri Western on Saturday. A day earlier, exiled coach Todd Hoffner was cleared of the charges and pronounced himself ready to return to work.

With the circumstances surrounding the program off the field never more unstable, the Mavericks on the field have never been better. They are 13-0 and one win away from playing for the first national title in the program's history.

``There wasn't panic. There wasn't getting down on themselves. There wasn't finger-pointing or back-biting or a general erosion of team chemistry,'' athletic director Kevin Buisman said. ``They just bowed their backs and got after it and worked a little bit harder and believed in each other. That's what makes this a pretty special group.''

The turmoil came suddenly, during practice on Aug. 21, nine days before the season opener. The 46-year-old Hoffner was escorted off the field and later charged with one count of using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work and one count of possessing child pornography. Prosecutors alleged that a video he took on his school-issued cellphone of his children playing in a bath amounted to child porn.

In the wake of the scandal at Penn State where an assistant football coach sexually abused children and school officials were excoriated for not intervening, Minnesota State officials moved quickly to address the situation. Hoffner was placed on administrative leave and offensive coordinator Aaron Keen was installed as the interim head coach.

``As I had to tell him, `There's really not a whole lot I can tell you about the situation. You're in charge until further notice and I'm not sure how much more I can tell you about the situation,''' Buisman said, recalling his instructions to Keen. ``He just said, `I got it.'''

Keen had head coaching experience at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill., but taking the reins under such harrowing conditions and trying not to get caught in the backlash from Penn State's downfall was an entirely unique and daunting task.

``The most important thing was to let (the players) know we still had coaches that were going look out for their best interests, make sure they were well prepared and that cared about them and were there for them,'' Keen said. ``The other most important thing was the kids in our program did nothing wrong. We wanted them to be proud of the program that they were in. I wanted to let them know they were going to have strong leadership at the top.''

A 12-hour bus ride to Minot, N.D., for the season opener helped to bring the team closer together, and a 38-10 victory over Minot State set the tone for what would quickly become a special season that included a late rally to beat Southwest Minnesota State in October and an overtime win over Northwest Missouri State in the first round of the playoffs.

``The coaches did a great job of keeping our minds away from it,'' senior receiver Adam Thielen said. ``We didn't want to worry about it. We feel bad about what happened, but what happened this season wasn't going to affect how we approached the game.''

On Friday, the day before one of the biggest games in the program's history, Hoffner was back in the headlines. A judge threw out the charges against him, saying the video was nothing more than children playfully dancing naked after a bath and raising questions about whether school administrators and law enforcement overreacted.

Mike Hanson, the assistant county prosecutor who brought the charges, stood by his decision on Friday.

Once again, the Mavericks didn't flinch. The Minnesota State defense held Missouri Western star running back Michael Hill to 50 yards rushing and Connor Thomas rushed for 159 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown with 3:15 to play that put the Mavericks in the semifinals.

``A team that didn't have the same kind of focus and commitment could have been distracted. I was around the team as the news broke and there was really little discussion. It was all game-related,'' Buisman said. ``I'm not with the kids 24/7. I don't know when that game face goes away and their minds drift to other things. I know that when they're in this building and when they take the field and when it needs to be about football, it's all about football.''

Sooner or later, it won't be. Despite Hoffner's desire to rejoin his team, he was not on the Blakeslee Stadium sideline on Saturday. School officials said they were still conducting an internal investigation into the matter and Buisman didn't want to comment on what the future holds for both coaches.

``There's a lot of other things kind of swirling around in the background, but it's about the kids,'' Buisman said. ``They'll never have the chance to experience this run to the national semifinals again. My focus is on how do we make it special, how do we make it memorable? So that they'll never forget and never question anything that we did as an administration, that we didn't do everything in our power to put them in the best position to be successful.''


Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski .

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 108-100 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Another loss: It is becoming more and more clear that the Wizards need a shot in the arm, something to change the direction of where they are currently heading.

Whether that will come in the form of All-Star point guard John Wall coming back, an adjustment to their lineup or strategy or something else entirely, the losses are piling up and at a tough time in the season.

With another loss on Friday night, their seventh in their last 11 games, the Wizards are now 40-32 on the season. They have plenty of room to still clinch a playoff berth, as their magic number stands at two, but they only have 10 games left to secure their all-important playoff seed. 

The Wizards lost their second straight game and again offense was their problem. They scored 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers.

Big third quarter: The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a team on the rise, a young squad with burgeoning stars that could someday soon make some noise in the Western Conference. The reason is because they are very good on offense. Defense is a much different story.

That was not the case on Friday night, as the Wizards had all sorts of trouble scoring in three of their four quarters. They managed just 43 points by halftime, the fewest the Nuggets have allowed in a first half since Jan. 27.

The Wizards, though, did get cooking in the third quarter. They erupted for 33 points in the frame while shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Markieff Morris, who finished with 17, had 11 points in the third quarter and Bradley Beal (24 points) hit three threes.

The Wizards also found a solution for Jamal Murray, one of the Nuggets' brightest young stars. He had 20 points at halftime, but went scoreless in nine minutes in the third quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (15 points) was among those who gave him trouble. Murry finished with 25.

The big third quarter reflected well on the Wizards' ability to make adjustments, but their 24-point fourth quarter flipped the script again.


Didn't force mistakes: The first time these teams squared off back in October, the Wizards forced the Nuggets into 23 turnovers. This game was a very different story. 

The Nuggets didn't commit their first turnover until midway through the second quarter and had only three by halftime. They had just 10 turnovers for the game.

Denver deserves some credit for limiting their mistakes, but all of it did not reflect well on the Wizards' defense. They didn't put enough pressure on the ball and failed to disrupt passing lanes like they usually do. It was uncharacteristic, as the Wizards entered the game 10th in average turnovers forced.

Not creating mistakes allowed the Nuggets to get way to many field goal attempts. Though they shot just 43.5 percent, Denver managed 108 points. And not getting turnovers offered the Wizards few opportunities for easy transition buckets.


Special night: Halftime offered a memorable moment in franchise history as legendary player and broadcast Phil Chenier had his No. 45 jersey retired by the team. His longtime broadcaster and friend Steve Buckhantz hosted the ceremony with about 20 friends and family members of Chenier's seated behind him. Buckhantz had opening comments, then majority owner Ted Leonsis spoke as everyone in the crowd stood and cheered.

Then, it was Chenier's time to talk. He thanked his former teammates, members of the organization and those close to him. He kept his composure until the very end when he brought up his mother, Peggy, who could not make the event. Chenier choked up and wiped away tears as he described what she has meant to him in his life.

It was a powerful moment and a great ceremony to honor a guy who has impacted the lives of many in the D.C. area. Now, his No. 45 will hang up in the rafters forever. That banner, by the way, features a picture of a microphone and the phrase '33 years,' signifying how long he was the color analyst for Bullets and Wizards games.


Up next: The Wizards do not have a game Saturday, though they are going to practice and Wall is expected to take a big step forward in his rehab. Their next game is Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington when they host the Knicks. That will also be a special game, as the Wizards are set to honor the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship.

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Eagles' Michael Bennett allegedly injured elderly worker; arrest warrant issued

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Eagles' Michael Bennett allegedly injured elderly worker; arrest warrant issued

Philadelphia Eagles lineman Michael Bennett has been indicted on felony abuse for allegedly pushing an elderly NRG Stadium worker during Super Bowl LI.

Bennett was indicted by the Harris County, Texas district attorney's office for injury to the elderly — which is intentionally and knowingly causing injury to a person 65 years or older, according to a press release from the Harris County Sheriffs' Office.

A warrant has been issued for Bennett's arrest.

The 66-year-old paraplegic stadium worker was attempting to control field access when Bennett allegedly pushed her. 

The maximum penalty Bennett faces is ten years in prison in addition to a $10,000 fine.


Bennett — whose brother Martellus played in that Super Bowl for New England — was a member of the Seattle Seahawks during the incident and was in attendance as a noncompetitive player.

The NFL has been made aware of the situation and is looking into the matter, according to Pro Football Talk.

The 32-year-old 10-year NFL veteran could potentially face NFL discipline under the league's personal conduct policy.