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home : sports : sports
December 5, 2021

10/15/2021 10:35:00 AM
Vikes shake off slow start to run their record to 6-0
by JEFF NORTON


Luckily for the North Branch football team, a slow start didn’t doom them against an overmatched Duluth Denfeld squad on Friday, October 8.

The game got off to a disastarous start for the unbeaten Vikings as they allowed an 80 yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage to the winless Hunters, and breathed some life into a program that has been mostly non-competitive this year.

North Branch, though, didn’t let Denfeld enjoy their moment too long. They marched down the field on their next drive, rushing for big chunks of yardage and eventually finished the drive off with a five yard touchdown run from quarterback Andrew Thauwald. The drive spanned 12 rushing plays.

North Branch’s two point conversion was good, and they took the lead at 8-6.

It didn’t take long for the Vikings to extend that lead and show why they are 5-0 on the year to the Hunters and their fans. After two short rushes from Denfeld put them in a passing situation on third and nine, the NB defense capitalized. Ryan Oday picked off an underthrown ball at midfield, giving NB great field position.

They took advantage of that positition on the very first play of the drive. Thauwald led some misdirection to the right side of the formation while star running back Ashton Labelle and the line pulled to the left. Labelle burst through the left side of the line untouched while multiple Denfeld defenders went right and the senior running back raced 50 yards untouched for another NB score.

They converted the two point conversion again, and were up 16-6.

The onslaught continued after that. North Branch’s defense forced a three and out and the Hunters punted away.  Two plays later, Nate Skiba, who was running for an injured Sam Robillard, burst through the line with a 50 yard gain of his own. He was tracked down before scoring, but just a few plays later, Labelle scored his second touchdown of the game from 11 yards out. NB nailed another two point conversion and were up 24-6 at the end of the first quarter.

The demolition continued into the second quarter, with NB forcing another three and out and scoring quickly. This time it was a 20 yard passing touchdown from Thauwald to a wide open Adam Johnsontone. He caught the ball and strolled into the endzone without any sight of a Hunter defender. The two point conversion was no good, but it looked like the rout was on at 30-6 with plenty of time left in the half.

But, North Branch has had a little bit of a penchant for giving up big plays on defense at times this year and Denfeld took advantage. After a few first downs moved the ball to NB’s side of the field, a penalty and sack from NB’s Jacob Tiegen had Duluth looking at third and 22 from the Vikes’ 40 yard line.

They went to the old screen play, and it worked like a charm, as NB was caught a bit off guard rushing up the field. The running back weaved through the remaining Viking defenders and scored a 40 yard touchdown to trim the lead to 30-12. The conversion was no good.

NB was looking to potentially get that score back with  over two minutes left in the half, but two plays into their drive, they fumbled the snap and Duluth pounced on it. Six plays later, the Hunters scored a touchdown, and converted the two point attempt and suddenly what looked like a blowout was a 10 point game at halftime.

With the Hunters tracking them down, North Branch got back to basics in the second half. They ran the ball extremely well, including starting the third quarter with a long scoring drive capped by a Loghan Croal touchdown and successful two point conversion that put them game back to a three score affair at 38-20.

And they also played much tighter defense. They had done well for stretches in the first half, but a few lapses led to the big Denfeld plays. Those didn’t happen in the second half. The defense stayed disciplined and did their jobs.

Even on the North Branch possessions that didn’t lead to points, they chewed up a lot of clock, which obviously kept the ball away from the Denfeld offense.

NB did add one more score in the fourth quarter, a one yard plunge from Oday to stretch the lead to 46-20.

North Branch’s rushing attack was on full display during the game. Labelle led the way with 206 yards and two touchdowns, Skiba had 94 yards, Oday had 53 and Thauwald had 40. They rushed for 416 yards as a team.

Labelle is seventh in the state in rushing yards, and is just short of the 1,000 yard mark for the year. He’s also in the top 10 in the state in touchdowns.



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