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August 15, 2018

10/27/2017 10:49:00 AM
North Branch fizzles in season finale, section rematch with Rapids up next

With the second seed locked up in Section 7AAAA, the Vikings didn’t have much to play for in their  regular season finale against Proctor, but after the high octane season they put on in their first seven games, it was a disappointing finale as North Branch lost  23-14.

The game started like nearly every North Branch game this year, with their offense powering down the field for an early touchdown. Tyler Adams finished the drive with a 12 yard touchdown run and North Branch enjoyed an 8-0 lead after one drive.

After three alternating punts between the two teams, North Branch was driving for another score until Aaron Robillard tossed an interception in the redzone, costing NB a close call at points.
The mistake was compounded two plays later when Jarid Parrott rushed for 58 yards to set Proctor up inside North Branch’s redzone.

The defense forced Proctor into a fourth down from the nine yard line, but John Pioro squeezed his way through a hole and burst through the other side for a Proctor touchdown. They missed their two point conversion, and the score remained 8-6 in favor of North Branch.

A rash of penalties around a long run by Robillard facilitated the next North Branch touchdown. On the first play of the drive, Robillard completed a 10 yard pass to Nick Hunziker, and 15 yards was tacked on for roughing the passer. On the following play, Robillard ran for 21 yards to put NB down to Proctor’s 15 yard line.

On the next play, North Branch was whistled for holding, bringing them back to the 25 yard line, but after a 14 yard run that involved a 15 yard facemask penalty, the Vikings were back in business at the Rail’s five yard line. Adams punched in his second score of the game  on the next play, stretching NB’s lead to 14-6. The two point conversion was no good, and the teams remained locked in that score for the remainder of the first half.

Proctor received the second half kickoff, and they made good on their first possession, methodically driving down the field until a 26 yard run by Pioro gave them their second score. The two point conversion was good and the game was tied.

North Branch put together a solid drive to answer, but they stalled out near Proctor’s red zone again. They faced a fourth and one from the Rails’ 26 yard line, but the Proctor defense stood tall and turned the Vikings over on downs.

Proctor responded with another grinding drive, taking 12 plays to move down the field, puncuated by a Parrott touchdown from four yards out. Proctor’s extra point was good and North Branch found themselves down 21-14. It was the first time they’ve trailed in the fourth quarter to any team not named Cloquet.

On North Branch’s ensuing drive, they were gifted great field position when the Rails tried an unsuccessful onside kick. North Branch moved the ball to Proctor’s 39 yardline before they got slopped. On second and 10, Zack Pilz fumbled, but Dawson Drost recovered. However, the Vikings were flagged for holding on the play, setting them up with a second and 21. Adams got a big chunk of that back on the next play with a 13 yard run, but at the end of it, he coughed up the ball and Proctor pounced on it this time.

North Branch’s defense was up to the task, though, forcing a punt from Proctor on the next possesion. Again, the Vikings started to move the ball, getting into Proctor’s territory. However, Robillard threw another pick on third and 14, stalling another promising drive.

The clock was starting to become North Branch’s biggest enemy, and it caused them to go to some extremes. The Vikings wereable to force a Proctor punt, but they took over inside their own 10 yard line with just two and a half minutes to play. Robillard rushed for three yards on the first play, but then three incomplete passes followed and NB turned the ball back to Proctor on their 12 yard line.

The North Branch defense actually stiffed Proctor on four straight plays, giving the Vikings’ the ball back with just over one minute left.

The dream of a last minute comeback was squashed quickly, though, when a bad snap sailed over Robillard’s head and was recovered in the endzone for a Proctor safety, stretching the lead to 23-14 in favor of the Rails.

They took three kneel downs to end the game, finishing the upset of North Branch.

North Branch, who has stuffed the box score with ridiculous stats all year, had a very ho-hum finale. Robillard was just 15-of-31for 121 yards passing, and ran for 35 yards on eight attempts. Adams led the Vikings with 53 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.

Proctor had the right mix of defensive talent and defensive scheme to limit the Vikings. Many teams have tried to key on certain aspects of North Branch’s attack, but it’s usually only temporarily successfull. Even in the loss to Cloquet, the North Branch offense was still very potent.

The tough last game meant that Robillard finished fourth in the state in rushing with 1,469 yards and 21 touchdowns, but he still was far and away the state leader in all purpose yards for a quarterback with 2,668 combined rushing and passing yards.

North Branch’s second seed wasn’t tarnished by the loss, and they kept their first round bye in tact. They’ll face Grand Rapids on Saturday, October 28 at North Branch in the section semifinals. The Thunderhawks beat Duluth Denfeld on Tuesday, October. 24 in their first round match up.

The Vikings dominated Grand Rapids just two weeks ago, 55-36, but in the playoffs, anything can happen. If North Branch wins, they’d be on their way to play for a section championship. If they loss, the promising season would be over just like that.

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