Finishing on a high note
Josh Michels and Kris Leier knew that the Shrine Bowl would be the final football game of their careers.
The pair of former Rugby High School standouts couldn’t have asked for a better final chapter.
Michels and Leier helped the West team to a frantic 42-41 comeback victory over the East in the 11-man Shrine Game in Grand Forks on July 20.
The West scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to earn the win, much to the delight of the Rugby duo.
“It felt pretty good ending on a win,” Michels said. “I would’ve been pretty upset if we lost.”
The West completed the rally with a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and Stanley’s Abe Roehrich ran in the 2-point conversion.
“It was pretty sweet,” Leier said. “It was cool that it was a win and have it be that close. We definitely came back out after halftime and got it together.”
The game offered a rare opportunity to play with players whom they’d competed against during their high school careers.
“It was kind of weird being on the same team as the guys you hated playing against,” Michels said. “You got to meet a whole bunch of new people.”
Many of the West team included players from Rugby’s region, including players from Bishop Ryan, Beulah and Carrington.
Leier said it was also a challenge to play football again after eight months of not playing.
“It was weird playing with them,” he said. “It probably took about a day (for everyone to get used to each other), but the second day and everybody was back in the swing of it. It was weird putting the pads back on again.”
Michels said he wasn’t close to being in game shape.
“I think the hardest thing was realizing how out of shape I was and getting used to running again.”
But the Shrine Bowl isn’t all about football. Generally, the teams travel to visit kids who are at a Shrine Hospital.
But this year, organizers tried something new, bringing the kids to the players.
“It was a little different, we didn’t actually go to the hospital,” Michels said. “They brought a bunch of patients to us and had a little mini-camp where we played games with them.”
Despite getting the win, it was the time with the young Shrine Hospital patients that stuck with Leier.
“We actually played with the kids for about an hour,” he said. “It was a good experience. It really opens your eyes to see what you have to be grateful about.”
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