11/1/2012 10:03:00 AM Vikings' season ends against Hermantown
Dylan Dahle made some key plays for North Branch, but the defense couldn’t stop Hermantown’s attack.
By JEFF NORTON
Despite the below-freezing temperature at kickoff, the early fast pace of the section semi-final game between North Branch and Hermantown heated everything up for a bit. The two teams were facing off in the second round of Section 7AAAA. Fourth-seeded North Branch had bested Grand Rapids in the first round 27-13, which advanced them to play the top-seeded Hermantown Hawks, who were 6-2 on the year and had a first round bye. Hermantown started the game by putting together a few nice gains on their first drive, but the much-maligned North Branch defense forced an early turnover near midfield when Chaz Anderson recovered a fumble at Hermantown’s 48 yard line. On North Branch’s second play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Zack Sundly connected with receiver Tony Denn for a 47-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead. Logan Klatt missed the ensuing extra point and left the Vikes ahead by just six. That lead was short-lived, however. On Cloquet’s first play on their next drive, Hermantown’s Mitch Hiner broke free up the right side for a 73-yard touchdown. Their extra point was good and they took the lead back at 7-6. North Branch, whose offense has been potent all year, wouldn’t go quietly. They faced a fourth and two near midfield on their second drive, and they boldly went for it. Sundly dove left and got five yards and earned the first down. The drive continued to march down the field and from 15 yards out, senior fullback Rance Ashley rumbled into the endzone untouched for the Vikings second touchdown of the game. Sundly converted the two-point conversion, and North Branch was on top 14-7. Again, the jubilation was short-lived. After a nice kickoff by Klatt and great coverage by the special teams, the Hermantown offense trotted back out on the field looking to make a statement. Hiner did just that for the Hawks.
Again, on the first play of the drive, Hiner broke free and loose down the sideline for a huge gain. He had one man to beat inside the 30-yard line and after a crafty cutback turned the defender around, Hiner finished the 84-yard touchdown run. In two plays, Hermantown had two touchdowns and 157 yards and the defense was staggered. Hermantown’s extra point was no good, so North Branch held on to the 14-13 lead. On North Branch’s next drive, they couldn’t find the rhythm that had propelled them on the first two drives. They went three and out and were forced to punt from deep in their own territory. Reid Johnson’s punt was very high and very short and it fell dead at North Branch’s 36-yard line, giving the punishing Hawks offense a short field to work with. The Hawks made good on the position, patching together consistent gains until they drove the ball in from the three yard line with a quarterback sneak by senior Kevin Folman. They converted the two-point conversion and took a touchdown length lead at 21-14.
North Branch came out with a bit more spunk on their next drive, moving the ball efficiently and in the Viking way. They were grabbing chunks of yards from Sundly, Ashley and Denn until a couple defensive stops forced them into a third and 12 just past midfield in Hermantown territory. As Sundly went to hand the ball off on the third and long, Hermantown’s defensive tackle broke through and disrupted the handoff, popping the ball loose. The Hawks pounced on the ball, giving Hermantown another short field to work with. The methodically moved the ball downfield and had a second and goal from the four yard line until the Vikings began to stiffen up. Hermantown committed a holding penalty and then a Dylan Dahle sack forced the Hawks in to third and goal from the 19.
A pass from Folman fell harmlessly incomplete, leaving Hermantown with a fourth and goal spot from the 19 yard line. The Vikings lone objective was to keep any Hawk receivers in front of them and not allow their routes to work into the endzone. Hermantown ran a modified flea flicker, though, and tight end Justin Brendon sneaked into the back of the end zone. Denn had played the ball perfectly but just whiffed on it as he went up to defend the pass and Brendon came down with the ball for Hermantown on the desperation pass. The score really deflated North Branch’s sideline and left the Vikings down 29-14 after Hermantown converted their two-point conversion. The teams traded possessions to end the half as neither could get their offense going. In the third quarter, neither team could get much going again. The defenses, which had been abused a bit in the first half, made the adjustments necessary to keep the scoring to a minimum. In the fourth quarter, however, the Hawks found their groove and began to run away with the game.
On another crucial fourth down, Folman connected with tight end Cade Zacharias on a 20-yard touchdown pass, and the two point conversion made the game 37-14. They followed that up on their next possession with a four-yard touchdown run by Folman, essentially ending the game with the score at 44-14. With just under three minutes left, Sundly did basically will his way to a bruising and impressive 65-yard touchdown run and also converted the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 44-22. But, it wasn’t enough as the the Hawks held on for the win and advanced to the section final game against third-seeded Princeton. The loss ended the Vikings season at 4-6, despite some record-setting performances through the year, mainly from the legs of Sundly, a senior who will be sorely missed next year.