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home : sports : sports
February 8, 2023

11/11/2022 11:38:00 AM
North Branch football crushes Cloquet and advances to the first state tourney in school history

North Branch 34, Cloquet 6
A trick play executed perfectly and at the perfect time  by North Branch put one of the final nails in the coffin of the Cloquet football season and helped propel the Vikings to their first ever state tournament berth in football on Friday, November 4.

The trick play happened in the third quarter with the Vikings leading 14-0 over the Lumberjackers. North Branch was facing a fourth down on Cloquet’s 17-yard line. If Cloquet could get a stop, they could potentially snatch momentum back and cut the lead to a one-score game.

The play started off as a typical hand off from senior quarterback Preston Peterson to senior running back Loghan Croal. It looked like a play North Branch had run 35 times in the game already, but Croal bounced to the right, making sure to stay behind the line of scrimmage, before popping his head up and looking down field to the left, where Peterson had snuck out towards the sideline. Croal dropped a perfect pass to Peterson over the Cloquet defense and the quarterback waltzed into the end zone to extend the Vikes’ lead to 21-0 and prove as the second half catalyst to a 34-6 section championship win for North Branch.

The game kicked off at North Branch at 7 p.m. and both teams looked like they brought their best defenses. North Branch forced Cloquet into an early punt and although the Vikings put together a nice opening drive, once they got down inside of the Lumberjacks’ 10 yard line, they lost a fumble, turning the ball back over to Cloquet.

But, NB’s defense again stood tall and force a three and out for the Jacks. Croal returned the ensuing punt to Cloquet’s 35 yard line, and the Vikings were in business on offense again. Nine plays later, Croal took a handoff to the right side and raced to the corner untouched for a two yard touchdown, giving NB the first score of the game. Nick Bovitz’ extra point was no good and NB was up 6-0.

On the next drive, it was North Branch’s turn to get a turnover. Cloquet ripped off two big runs and was starting to threaten from NB’s 29 yard line, but on a jet sweep to the right, a NB defender knocked the ball loose and the Vikings pounced on it to turn over Cloquet.

It only took North Branch three plays to hit paydirt after the turnover, with Peterson running for nine, Croal going for 32 and then Croal hitting big again from 36 yards out, this time scoring a touchdown to put NB up 12-0. North Branch was content to kick the extra point, but Cloquet jumped offsides, so NB went for two and Croal converted to get the Vikings the 14-0 cushion.

The two teams traded empty possessions over the next few minutes and went into halftime with the same 14-0 margin in favor of NB.

The Vikings received the second half kick off, and march their way down the field, using 14 plays to comfortably move against Cloquets defense. They only faced one third down in the first 13 plays, a short third and one that they converted easily.

But, Cloquet finally found something on defense when North Branch moved inside of their 20 yard line. They stuffed Croal, Sam Robillard and Peterson on consecutive plays and the Vikings faced a fourth and eight, and that’s when offensive coordinator Kyle Kahl whipped out the halfback pass trick play that totally deflated Cloquet’s sideline and ignited North Branch’s and the home crowd. Bovitz’ extra point was good and NB had a 21-0 lead that seemed insurmountable with how well their defense was playing.

Cloquet tried to put a drive together, and they moved down inside of NB’s 15 yard line, but it took a lot of time off the clock to do it. And when the Lumberjacks tried their own razzle dazzle — a reverse handoff from qaurterback to running back to receiver — they fumbled the second handoff and North Brach jumped on the ball, securing another turnover and squashing the little hope Cloquet had left.

From there, senior running back Vinny Boeck took over. After four plays moved the ball out to NB’s 32 yard line, Boeck took a handoff up the middle and squeeze through the narrowest of holes until he saw daylight, and he took advantage, going 68 yards to the house for the longest touchdown of his career. Bovitz’ hit another extra point and NB was up 28-0 in the fourth quarter as the anticipation started to build on the sideline and in the crowd.

Not leaving anything to chance, Head Coach Justin Voss got an onside kick call in on the ensuing kick off and Boeck flashed again in recovering the kick and keeping possession in NB’s favor.

The Vikings couldn’t do anything with the drive, but they were successful in burning more time off the clock and getting closer to their first state bid.
With Cloquet in desperation mode, they went to the air on their next drive and didn’t move anywhere except backwards. Eventually NB forced them into a fourth and 12 and the attempted pass fell incomplete, giving the Vikes the ball back. Two plays later, Boeck went untouched around the left side for another score, sealing the Vikings’ state tournament bid.

Cloquet added an inconsequential score to break the shutout, but the Vikings had done the impossible and punched the school’s first ever ticket to the state tourney and the sideline went berserk in celebration.

State Tourney Notes
The Vikings will continue their march towards an even higher finish when they open the tournament with a game against Rocori on Thursday, November 10 at Blaine High School at 7 p.m. Tickets are only available online at mshsl.hometownticketing.com/embed/event/242
The Spartans were 8-2 on the year with their only losses coming to defending state champion Hutchinson and the tough Willmar Cardinals.
They feature one of the more balanced offenses the Vikings will face this year with dual threat quarterback Jack Spanier at the helm. Spanier completed over 70 percent of his passes for 1,570 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also ran for 402 yards and 10 touchdowns. Mason Dahl is Rocori’s leading rusher at 724 yards and eight scores. They also feature a pair of receivers that are very good in their own, complementary ways. Hunter Nistler is a quick, inside receiver who caught 39 passes for 667 yards and 11 touchdowns. Adam Langer is a big bodied target on the outside who caught 35 balls for 472 yards and four scores.

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