September 18, 2003 at 2:41 p.m.
The grass in front of the North Branch sidelines was worn out 10 minutes before the game even started. North Branch head football coach spent his pregame pacing back and forth like a caged tiger. It was no secret, last Friday’s battle with Mora was an important one.
Mora felt the same way. After taking the opening kickoff, the Mustangs marched down the field at will during their opening drive. Mora used a 12 play drive to march 76 yards downfield, all the way to the Viking eight yard line before the North Branch defense made their move. With a third and goal, the Mustang pass was knocked down by Joe Lofboom, stalling the drive and forcing Mora to kick a field goal. The kick missed, changing the complexion of the game.
But not right away. The first two North Branch drives on offense were the same, three and out, followed by a punt. Fortunately for Vikings fans, the Mustangs were also struggling on offense, leaving the two teams 0-0 heading into the second.
“The offense couldn’t really get going until the second quarter,” said Swanson. “We were making a lot of mental mistakes and stopped ourselves or put ourselves in bad situations.”
All of that changed in the second. On their first drive of the quarter, North Branch put the ball in the hands of Marc Vanden Heuvel and their offensive line. The team responded with a 12 play, 76 yard drive, taking nearly five minutes off the clock, capped off by a Phil Olson one yard touchdown run. Add the kick and the lead is 7-0 Vikings.
After North Branch got the ball back and missed a field goal, the Vikings got one final shot at the end zone with under a minute left in the half. One problem, they were 95 yards away.
Facing third down and 10 from the North Branch five, Vanden Heuvel solved the problem by breaking through the right side of the line and sprinting 75 yards to the Mora 19. All of a sudden, up 7-0 with 30 seconds left, the Vikings had a chance to add to their lead.
A quick 14 yard pass from Fletcher to Vanden Heuvel followed, bringing the ball to the four yard line with 19 ticks left. After a Fletcher run to the two, Fletcher took to the air, hooking up with Ed Meier for the score with six seconds left. All of a sudden, North Branch was taking a 14 lead into the third.
“That score late was big because if you make a mistake, you’ll still be ahead,” said Swanson. “That’s really the biggest thing. Everyone realizes that if a mistake happens, you still hold onto the lead and that helps everyone relax a little bit more.”
Mora was not in the same boat, they were anything but relaxed. The Mustangs answered with their first score of the game six minutes into the third on a quarterback sneak. On the heels of a missed extra point, the Viking lead was trimmed to 14-6.
Minutes later, Mora was on the move again, only this time, it took one play, and one scare to turn the tables. On a passing play late in the third quarter, North Branch junior Jake Kosky came up to make a hit on the Mustang receiver right in front of the Vikings sideline. After lowering his head to apply the hit, Kosky hurt his back and had to be taken from the field on a stretcher. Although okay now, at the time, the emotions were running high on the sidelines.
“It was a precautionary thing,” said Swanson. “He was definitely in our thoughts right away during the game. That’s when you realize that it’s just a game. You worry about players when they get hurt and our guys were worried. I think it was a turning point emotionally because the guys wanted to go out there and play well for him. I think they did that.”
Defense was the name of the game the rest of the way. Still leading 14-6, both teams traded punts until late in the game. Mora had one last chance but Matt Warren’s interception gave the ball back to North Branch with 3:31 left. From there, Vanden Heuvel and the Vikings played the clock game as the senior back picked up three crucial first downs, draining the clock down to 32 seconds before the Mustangs got it back.
It wasn’t nearly enough time. After two imcompletions, Warren knocked the ball down near the goal-line as time expired, putting the finishing touches on a 14-6 North Branch win.
“Marc and the line were huge down the stretch, picking up a lot of first downs in the fourth quarter. You can just see that in a lot of his runs, he is determined not to let the first guy bring him down. Late in the game, he got us a lot of first downs by simply running through tackles,” remarked Swanson, commenting on Vanden Heuvel’s second 200 yard rushing game of the season. “You know, we just came into the year, the kids worked hard everyday and it’s good to see some things pay off. It’s a matter of adjustments. Teams are starting to go after us in different ways and we’ll need to make some adjustments. Also, being ready to go. We were ready to go in the first and that’s helped us become 3-0 on the year.”
The 3-0 record places them on top of the Rum River standings, less than a year after the Vikings finished near the bottom. With two conference wins, North Branch has already equalled the amount of league wins they got in 2002.
“Last year, we didn’t the breaks but as I told them last season, we had to start making our own breaks. It was a nice victory against a good hard hitting team,” said Swanson. I’m proud of the players and coaches, their hard work and effort is paying off. Yes we’re 3-0, but we still have a lot of room for improvement in all phases of the game. We need to come out ready to play every week in the Rum River Conference.”
North Branch 14
1 2 3 4 F
Mora 0 0 6 0 6
North Branch 0 14 0 0 14
NB- Olson 2 yrd. run
(Baumann kick good) 7-0
NB- Meier 2 yrd. reception
(Baumann kick good) 14-0
M- 1 yrd. run
(Mora kick failed) 14-6
North Branch statistics:
Fletcher- 3-8, 17 yrds., TD
36 rush, 229 yrds.
Olson- 7 rush, 28 yrds., TD
Fletcher- 5 rush, 15 yrds.
Stenberg- 4 rush, -6 yrds.
Vanden Heuvel- 1 rec., 15 yrds.
Meier- 1 rec., 2 yrds., TD
Anderson- 1 rec., 0 yrds.