October 30, 2003 at 1:26 p.m.
North Branch 7
Nobody knew what to expect including the teams themselves. North Branch versus Chisago Lakes in the section semifinals? Anything could happen. To add even more drama to the storyline, sleet dusted the field before the game, adding weather the list of intangibles.
Just two plays into the game, weather became a factor. Working from their own 38 yard line, a fumble gave the ball to the Vikings at the Chisago Lakes 40 yard line. The first major change of momentum? If it was, it only lasted seven plays as North Branch gave it right back. Unfortunately for North Branch, it would mark the beginning of a turnover battle, a battle they were going to lose.
“Obviously, it was a big turn of events,” mentioned Weiss. “Any turnover in a huge game like that is big, we definitely dodged a bullet.”
“It hurt but you have to be able to fight your way back, they fumbled right away too,” remarked Swanson. “They caused that fumble, they ripped it right away from our guy. You have to give them credit, they kind of had us reeling through the entire game.”
The Wildcats would capitalize, eventually. After failing in their first drive, the Chisago Lakes offense took their time marching down the field, pounding the under-sized Vikings every chance they got. The 16 play drive lasted so long, that by the time Todd Froberg scored on a two yard run, it was 21 seconds into the second quarter. Chisago Lakes had the lead 7-0.
“I think they decided they were going to try and pound it at us,” said Joel Swanson, North Branch football head coach. “That’s where we are going to struggle. We tried some things, but when you do that, you can either guess right or wrong, and if you guess wrong on the option, that’s a problem.”
“Our game-plan was just to execute,” said Bill Weiss, Chisago Lakes head football coach. “It wasn’t just to physically pound on them. I guess that’s what we always want to do when we play. I think we just executed really well.”
They continued to execute well. After punts littered the field halfway through the second, the Wildcats put some distance between themselves and the Vikings as time wound down before halftime.
Set up by an Aaron James 30 yard run and a 15 yard personal foul, the ‘Cats faced first and 10 from the North Branch 15 with under one minute to play in the half. The pitch went to Danny Reed on the right side, only Reed turned to throw, tossing a dart to Marcus Burgin in the back of the end zone for the score, giving Chisago Lakes a 14-0 lead at halftime.
“We’ve had success with that from time to time,” commented Weiss. “Actually, Marcus Burgin was the guy who recognized that play, it was basically his call. A big part of our offense is depending on our players to recognize things on the field. It was a heads up play by Marcus who just had an exceptional game.”
Down big, North Branch had no choice but to open it up in the third. It worked right away as the Vikings marched down the field to open up the second half. Paced by Matt Fletcher, the senior quarterback used his arm to move the ball, going 5-5 for 48 yards in the drive, eventually finishing with an eight yard touchdown strike to Jake Anderson, trimming the Chisago lead to 14-7. The momentum was slowly turning back in the Vikings favor.
“We made some adjustments on defense and offensively, we just stayed with the same thing we’ve been doing,” said Swanson. “We stressed to them during halftime to get the job done. We might have called some different pass plays but our plan was the same.”
North Branch got another shot in the arm three plays later after the Widcats were forced to punt, turning the ball back over to the Vikings for a chance to tie. Then it happened.
In every game, you can point to one or two turning points that totally change the outcome of the game. Both coaches agree, this play was it.
Facing third and long from their own 25, Fletcher sprinted out of the pocket with Aaron James right behind him. James won the race, pile-driving Fletcher to the turf, forcing a fumble which the Chisago Lakes defense recovered. Seven plays later, Thomas Moody found Froberg in the flat for a 20 yard touchdown strike, jumping the Wildcat lead to 21-7. It might have been the straw that broke the Vikings back.
“Personally, I thought it was caused when he (Fletcher) hit the ground because the ball popped straight up,” remembered Swanson. “We lost a lot when that happened. We were in good position, sitting at mid-field and down by seven. That gave them great field position and they took advantage of it.”
“James was possessed,” continued Swanson. “He forced us to step around some things on defense, he hurts us on offense. The guy out weighs our guys by 50 pounds, I mean what do you do? They did some things. They attacked us and that’s what they should’ve done.”
“Aaron James put the momentum squarely back on our shoulders with that play,” mentioned Weiss. “I think it’s safe to say that was one of his stronger games this year no doubt. James is just a reflection on how all of our guys played. We had a lot of kids make some big time plays that the normal fan doesn’t always get to see.”
The fumble was the Vikings third turnover of the game and more were to follow. On their next drive, North Branch again attacked by air as Fletcher hit Corey Hutchings for 11 yards, then Ed Meier for another two. However, Fletcher’s next pass was picked off by Todd Froberg, stalling another Viking drive.
“Basically, all of the games we have lost, we’ve lost the turnover battle,” remarked Swanson. “Last year when we didn’t play so well, we lost the turnover battle. This season, we wanted to change that, but we got some injuries, and we started to throw the ball more because of that. That’s when turnovers start to happen, when you’re throwing the ball a lot. We felt we had to throw against Princeton and Chisago Lakes and we just didn’t execute well enough to win the turnover battle.”
“We improved from the last time we played them, especially our pass defense,” remarked Weiss. “That has been an area that has been a concern. We had some different guys back there because of injuries and other things and they really stepped up to the challenge and played great. We played our base defense the whole night, our guys just did a nice job playing, doing what they had to do. Our front line did a great job stopping the run and when you combine that with the points we were scoring on offense, they had no choice but to try and throw the ball.”
Chisago Lakes capitalized again as James padded his rushing stats, breaking free for an 18 yard touchdown run near the end of the third quarter. The score not only put the Wildcats up 28-7, it was another long flurry on offense where the ‘Cats controlled the line of scrimmage, frustrating the Vikings on every play.
“They were really trying to power us,” commented Swanson. “On offense, we were having all kinds of trouble with James. You put two guys on him and then that leaves someone else open. They just wore us down. Our defense was on the field a lot, and on defense, we didn’t have an answer for him (James). You could see that we were getting down on the sideline a little bit. The biggest thing about having to play catch-up is that you have to make plays and take chances. That’s when you start to turn the ball over. On defense, you take some chances, but if they guess right on what you’re trying to do, it’s going to be a long play.”
Leading by 21 points in the fourth quarter, Chisago Lakes stayed solid on the ground and impressive through the air while defending the pass. The Vikings had three possessions on offense in the final quarter, all three ended in interceptions. North Branch finished the game with seven turnovers, falling 28-7.
“Some of the guys had just moved into the secondary and it took us a while for everyone to fit in,” replied Weiss. “We have played a lot of passing teams and that prepared us also. We had a good sense of what we were doing out there. I think our guys as far as pass coverage, wanted to improve on that part of the game. They took the challenge and ran with it.”
For the game, Chisago Lakes held North Branch to 269 yards of total offense, their fourth lowest output of the season. Offensively, the Wildcats racked up 332 yards, 278 were on the ground.
“In pre-game, our guys were really focused. I wasn’t surprised with how well we played because we were so focused,” said Weiss. “We really had a good sense going in that we were going to play well. I think the guys just expect that now. They all have a strong drive, looking to continually improve and bring it to the next level. That’s what makes things so fun at this time of year.”
The Vikings finished the season 7-3 overall, a dramatic improvement from last year where they went 2-7 overall. Even though the 28-7 loss finished their season, 2003 has been deemed a great success. But it can be better.
“After the game, we talked about that and how things have turned around,” said Swanson. “I was proud of a lot of things that we did. Now, we’re going to have to start talking about why it is we’re so out-weighted and out-matched. We have to start paying our due’s when it comes to the offseason and getting in the weight room. That’s going to start in a couple of weeks.”
Meanwhile for Chisago Lakes, it’s on to the section finals versus state power Totino-Grace on Friday night. The Eagles, the top seed out of the section, were rated number one in state 4A in the last state poll.
“Totino is an outstanding team, they definitely warrant being the number one team in the state. It’s going to be a great game that’s for sure,” remarked Weiss. “We have played them tough in the past, in 2001 and in 1999, so we have had a history of playing great games against them. That’s what we’re excited about. We’re going up against a top-notch team with a chance at state, it’s really exciting. We’re just going to lay our cards on the table and see what happens.”
Chisago Lakes 28
North Branch 7
1 2 3 4 F
North Branch 0 0 7 0 7
Chisago Lakes 0 14 14 0 28
CL- Froberg 2 yrd. TD run
(Kick good) 7-0
CL- Reed 15 yrd. TD pass to Burgin
(Kick good) 14-0
NB- Anderson 8 yrd. TD rec.
(Kick good) 14-7
CL- Froberg 20 yrd. TD rec.
(Kick good) 21-7
CL- James 20 yrd. TD run
(Kick good) 28-7
Chisago Lakes statistics
Moody- 3-9, 29 yrds., TD
James- 11 rush, 80 yrds., TD
Reed- 13 rush, 76 yrds.
Froberg- 16 rush, 68 yrds., TD
Moody- 9 rush, 23 yrds.,
Arndt- 4 rush, 8 yrds.
Froberg- 2 rec., 29 yrds., TD
Burgin- 1 rec., 15 yrds., TD
Reed- 1 rec., 0 yrds.
North Branch Statistics
Fletcher: 22-38, 191 yrds., 5 INT
Stenberg- 19 rush, 66 yrds.
Fletcher- 5 rush, 10 yrds.
Hutchings- 3 rush, 2 yrds.
Beaver- 9 rec., 82 yrds.
Anderson- 5 rec., 50 yrds., TD
Hutchings- 5 rec., 39 yrds.
Meier- 2 rec., 10 yrds.
Stenberg- 1 rec., 10 yrds
Chisago Lakes- 332 yards
(278 rush, 54 pass)
North Branch- 269 yards
(78 rush, 191 pass)