|9/17/2021 12:44:00 PM|
Vikings beat up on Greyhounds, move to 2-0
by JEFF NORTONNorth Branch and Duluth East came into their game on Friday night after both dominated in their season opener, but North Branch proved to be the stronger of the two, beating East 34-19 and moving to 2-0 on the year.
North Branch started with the ball, but a fumbled snap early on put them behind the chains, and they had to end up punting the ball away to East.
The punt only traveled 21 yards to Duluth East’s 40 yard line, so the defense had a lot of work to do, and they were up to the challenge. They nearly recovered a fumble on the first snap of the game for East, and then when they stuffed them on second down, the Greyhound quarterback dropped back to pass on third and 11. North Branch senior linebacker Sam Sonnek knifed through the offensive line and was in the quarterback’s face instantly. The passer tried to retreat, but Sonnek stalked him for a huge 14 yard loss that forced the ‘Hounds to punt and flip the field in favor of NB.
On NB’s ensuing drive Sam Robillard, Ashton LaBelle and Sonnek teamed up to move the Vikings down into the Duluth East red zone where they faced a fourth and long one. Sonnek got the hand off and tried to bounce around the right side fo the East defense, but a linebacker was there waiting for him and stuffed him at the line of scrimmage to turn the Vikings over on downs at East’s 16 yard line.
The Hounds seemed to seize the momentum their defense created and led the drive off with a 35 yard rushall the way out to midfield. But, on the next play, the East quarterback and running back didn’t communicate on the handoff and fumbled it over to the NB defense.
But, East’s defense was up to the task, forcing a punt on fourth and four from the 38. North Branch tried to fake the punt though with a run up the right side and East snuffed it out and stopped the punter for no gain to turn them over on downs near midfield.
The ‘Hounds, however, just couldn’t hold onto the ball. On their first play of the drive, they ran to the right side of the formation and senior defensive end Adam Johnstone made his best play of the year, ripping the ball out of the runner’s hands. Johnstone proceeded to pounce on the loose ball, cleaning up the havoc that he had created.
Finally, North Branch’s offense got cooking. They got back-to-back big runs from LaBelle, going 13 yards and then 14 yards to start the drive. After moving the ball a bit more, quarterback Andrew Thauwald completed his first and only pass of the game, a 21-yard connection to LaBelle out of the backfield that moved the ball down to the five yard line. LaBelle was wide open out of the backfield and Thauwald put a perfect amount of touch on it to lead him into success. LaBelle put the exclamation point on the drive with a three yard touchdown run, the two point conversion failed and NB was up 6-0.
The Vikings got a reprieve on defense to preserve their shutout in the first half. East had two big plays, a 35 yard rush, and a 25 yard rush that gave them first and goal from the nine yard line, but they were short on time. They attempted a pass that fell incomplete on the first play, and only had one more shot at the end zone before halftime. They decided to run for it, and North Branch stopped them well short of the goal line to go into the half up 6-0.
The defense continued to dominate in the beginning of the second half. After giving up one first down, they stuffed East for a three yard loss, then forced an incomplete pass on second down. On third down, Matt Lavalla, a junior linebacker, came crashing through the line on a blitz and sacked East’s quarterback for a huge loss, forcing a punt from the Hounds.
North Branch got a nice return on the punt from Vince Boeck, and they set up shop on East’s 43 yard line. They squeezed out a fourth and four conversion early in the drive on a carry by Ryan Oday before LaBelle took it to the house from 31 yards out for hiss second score of the game. Oday and Robillard threw two monster blocks on the play to spring LaBelle untouched to paydirt. Oday converted the two point conversion, and NB had a commanding 14-0 lead.
But, East put up over 50 points in their season opener, and wouldn’t stay down for long. They ripped off four straight big gains to move down the field fast after a nice kickoff return, on the fifth play of the drive, they got into the end zone from three yards out to trim the lead to 16-6. With a successful extra point, the lead was trimmed to 14-7.
NB started their next drive promising, with a 31 yard rush by LaBelle, followed by back-to-back nine yard rushes from the senior back as well, which brought the game into the fourth quarter, but three straight stops from East led the Vikings to punt on fourth and eight from East’s 29 yard line. The ball trickled in the end zone, giving them only nine yards of field position.
Then disaster struck. North Branch forced East into a fourth and 10 form their own 20, but down two scores, East felt they had to go for it. Not only did they convert the first down with a screen pass, they scampered all the way to the endzone for an 80 yard touchdown on some very uncharacteristically poor tackling by the NB defense. East missed the two point conversion, and game stood at 14-13 in favor of NB.
The offense needed an answer in the worst way, and they got it from Robillard. On the first play of the next drive, the junior running back weaved through the East defense for a 71 yard gain. He was tracked down eventually, but he was inside the 10 yard line, and gave NB a huge momentum boost. Three plays later, Robillard finished what he started with a sven yard touchdown run to put NB up 22-13. Sonnek made good on the two point conversion and the Vikes stretched the lead to 11.
After a few lapses on defense in the previous drives, the Vikings struck early on the next drive. With the Hounds going to the air, Oday made his biggest defensive play of the night, picking off a Greyhound pass to get the Vikings the ball right back.
North Branch absolutely grinded the clock down on the next drive, burning a big chunk of the fourth quarter with an eight play drive that featured all rushes and ended with a LaBelle touchdown from five yards out. The key play on the drive was a 13 yard keeper from Thauwald on third and seven from the 22 yard line.
The two point conversion was no good, but the game was already out of reach for East with just a few minutes remaining and NB up 28-13.
On their next drive, in desperation, the East quarterback heaved an errant pass that Sonnek picked off. To cap his huge night off, he took it to the house for a 35 yard defensive touchdown to extend the lead to 34-13. East scored one more inconsequential touchdown with under 30 seconds left, but the Vikings won comfortably, 34-19.
They now take their 2-0 record on the road for the first time this year, against Mora. The Mustangs are 0-2 on the year, having lost to Grand Rapids and Esko by a combined score of 65-14. But, Mora typically has a well-coached, disciplined team, and North Branch certainly can’t look past them on the schedule.