Sam Hernandez, Matt Kleinheinz and John Hernandez, Sam’s father, pose for a photo in Tomahawk.

TOMAHAWK — Mentor versus Student.

Friday’s Marshall-Tomahawk football game matched a former Cardinals player, Tomahawk head coach Sam Hernandez, against one of his former assistant coaches, Marshall head coach Matt Kleinheinz.

Hernandez is a 2004 MHS graduate and was the starting nose guard and kicker on the Cardinals’ 2002 Division 5 state runner-up team. Kleinheinz was an assistant under Mike Zimmerman.

“To coach against Sam was obviously a lot of fun, he’s a dear friend of mine,” said Kleinheinz.

The Cardinals made the nearly 3-hour trip north to help christen the brand new Hatchet Field, a $2.2-million facility referred to as the Hatchet Pride Project.

The game only came to fruition because both teams’ original Week 1 opponents backed out. Tomahawk was scheduled to play Menominee Indian Trail, which elected to move its season to the spring. Marshall was supposed to open with an Eastern Suburban Conference game against Dodgeland, but the Trojans’ season started two weeks late, therefore, they had to forfeit Weeks 1 and 2 (see adjacent story) to Marshall and Waterloo.

“I called Matt and we both said it would be neat if we could make something work,” said Hernandez, in his second season at Tomahawk. “After both of us looked (for games) closer to home and couldn’t find anything, we said ‘let’s play.’”

With plans on opening the new stadium, Hernandez wanted to keep it a home game. And, with Marshall not being allowed to play home games this season due to Dane County’s restrictions based on COVID-19, Kleinheinz, who also serves as Marshall’s athletic director, agreed to make the trip.

“Both teams were really happy we were able to make it work,” Hernandez added.

“It’s a beautiful facility,” added Kleinheinz.

While it was the first time Hernandez went head-to-head with his alma mater as a head coach, he did face Cardinal teams several times as both an assistant coach at Lake Mills and as the head girls basketball coach at Johnson Creek.

“It’s definitely different looking across the field at your former team,” Hernandez said. “I saw (Marshall assistant coach) Shawn Korth who I played with in high school and played on the state team with, and Matt was my coach in football, basketball and baseball. To share the game with him and coach against him, it was a surreal moment.” Hernandez added: “Once the ball got kicked off, and it was just a football game.”

Marshall won the game 39-8.

“He’s got things going in the right direction,” said Kleinheinz of his former player. “I think in a couple of years I’ll be glad that we got to play them now instead of later.”

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