|9/23/2022 11:10:00 AM|
Vikings learning to win with a target on their back
North Branch had to battle quite a bit to take out Mora on Friday, September 16, but they eventually came out on top 22-16 over the Mustangs and moved their record to 3-0 on the season.
The game started out well on defense for the Vikings. After one first down by the Mustangs, the Vikings tightened up and forced a punt to give their potent offense their first chance of the game.
But, on the second play, Vinny Boeck received a handoff and got a good gain to the left and was taken down. The ball squirted out late, seemingly after Boeck was down, but the referees, who made no initial signal of a turnover, conferred and ruled it a fumble that Mora recovered.
North Branch’s defense forced Mora backwards, though, as they stopped them for two no gains, and a four yard loss before a delay of game penalty on third and 14 for Mora. But, that gave them a little breathing room on the punt, and their punter executed the coffin corner beautifully, pinning the Vikings down to their own two yard line.
Through an offsides penalty and a few rushes, North Branch was able to work their way out to the 18 yard line, but stalled on third and four and had to punt it away. They got a huge break, though, when Mora roughed Adam Johnstone, the punter, giving them 15 yards and new life on the drive.
North Branch took quick advantage of that. Quarterback Preston Peterson took the next play for eight yards, then Sam Robillard ripped through a hole in the middle on the next play for 16 yards, moving the ball to midfield.
After one more short run, Boeck made amends for his earlier turnover and ripped off a 45 yard run down the right sideline just after the quarter break, injecting even more life into North Branch and their sideline.
On the next play, Boeck finished the drive off with a knifing four yard touchdown run. It was a 98 yard scoring drive for the Vikings.
On the two point conversion, a bizarre play unfolded that was very fortuitous for North Branch. Joey Donahue, who has become a two point specialist for NB, took a handoff from Peterson, but flubbed it to the ground and inadvertantly kicked it forward. The ball somehow found its way through the mass of lineman in front of him, ricocheted off one of them into the corner of the endzone and Johnstone won a race to the ball to recover it for a successful, albeit unconventional, two point conversion to go up 8-0.
Mora drove into North Branch territory again on the next drive, but the defense locked them from moving any further and they had to punt to pin NB deep in their own territory again.
The Vikings proceeded to string together 14 positive plays, but could never break the big one. Time was starting to wind down on the first half, so eventually North Branch went to the air where Peterson threw a jump ball that was tipped and a Mora defensive back came up with a nice diving interception. But, there were only seconds left in the half at that point, so Mora ran one play before the clock ran out.
After halftime, North Branch was to receive the ball, but the Mustangs executed a very nice surprise onside kick that they recovered, keeping possession of the ball and staying within striking range.
The gamble paid off for Mora, as it took them only two plays to go 49 yards and score their first touchdown of the game. The big one was a 33 yard scamper by their running back.
Mora converted their two pointer in a more conventional way and tied the game at 8-8.
North Branch had a very rare three and out on their next possession. Mora, who had all the momentum for the kick and touchdown, took over on NB’s 47 after a poor punt by NB special teams.
The Vikings’ defense did their job on the next drive, forcing Mora into a fourth and 10 punting situation, but the Mustang special teams continued to pull out all the stops, executing what looked like a perfect fake punt. Luckily for NB, the Mustang gunner was called for holding, forcing Mora into a fourth and 20 that they actually punted on.
The stop proved to be vital. North branch went on a 10 play drive, highlighted by a 16 yard run by Loghan Croal, and scored a short touchdown to regain the lead.
The drive was capped off by a Peterson quarterback sneak.
The two point conversion went to Peterson as well, and he kept it for an easy conversion to the left pylon to put North Branch up 16-8.
Sensing special teams were going to factor heavily into this game’s result, North Branch Head Coach Justin Voss decided to repay the favor and execute his own onside kick. It was done perfectly and North Branch recovered the ball to retain possession.
The Vikings ran six plays, and also ran valuable time off the clock, but eventually were forced to punt from Mora’s 34 yard line. Johnstone booted it out inside the 20 yard line and Mora took over and started their drive with a 19 yard run.
Eventually, they found themselves in a fourth and two on their own 46 yard line and decided to go for it, but North Branch’s defense was up to the task, stopping the Mora running back for no gain and turning the ball over on downs.
The big stop gave North Branch the ball in Mora territory and on the second play, Croal rumbled for 26 yards to move North Branch into the redzone.
Five plays later, the Vikings scored from 16 yards out when Robillard ran up the middle untouched. The play was set up by so many fakes up the middle as the defense bit hard on the outside run, and that allowed Robillard space to do damage. The two pointer was no good, but with a 22-8 lead and just over two minutes remaining in the game, North Branch was feeling comfortable.
Mora bizarrely stuck with the run despite only having one timeout left. They ran the first three plays of the drive, using their last timeout and burning 80 of the 120 seconds they had left on gaining 14 yards. They finally went to the air with just over 40 seconds left and their quarterback completed a 51 yard touchdown to the running back out of the backfield.
Their two point conversion was good to get them within six at 22-16, but on the ensuing kickoff, Mora tried to pop up a kick over the waiting front line of onside recovers, but the North Branch receiver smartly backed up, waved for a fair catch and securely brought the ball down.
One kneel down later, and the Vikings escaped with the one score victory 22-16.
Next up for the 3-0 Vikings is their homecoming match against Rock Ridge on Friday, September 23. The Wolverines are 1-2 on the year, most recently falling 25-6 to Duluth Denfeld.