September 20, 2007 at 8:41 a.m.
Until Irondale took control of the game on its first possession, everything was setting up for a big homecoming celebration for the Vikings. After the traditional homecoming week activities, including decoration of local businesses, lockers and students' cars, coronation of a King and Queen and dress-up days in NBHS, the game approached.
Friday was a beautiful day for football. It was crisp, clear and cool when new North Branch Superintendent, Dr. Deb Henton, and Viking mascot, Thor, took the lead in the homecoming parade. Enthusiastic spectators followed the floats down Maple Street and gathered on the grounds adjacent to the stadium, where many joined in a pregame tailgating party, organized by the booster club.
The skies remained crystal clear as the sun sped toward the western horizon. Even the brisk northwest wind abated, making the large crowd much more comfortable. Everything seemed positioned for a very enjoyable night of football viewing.
The Vikings had the chance to seize the initiative as they had the first chance with the ball. They took the opening kickoff and returned it to the 21. However, after gaining only four yards in its first three plays, the Vikings' Dillon Kost punted to the Knights.
The Viking defense stopped Irondale on a first down run. On second down, the Knight quarterback threw a harmless incompletion, forcing a third-and-long. It appeared North Branch had an opportunity to get the ball back.
However, the Knights connected on a pass that gave them a first down in Viking territory. On the next third down, Irondale ran left for a first down at the 24. That was followed by another first down at the 12. Before the next snap, the Knights were whistled for illegal motion. On the next play, Viking defensive tackle Eric Sampson made a touchdown-saving tackle on the 6. However, that delayed the inevitable just one play. Irondale scored on a quarterback draw. With 6:53 to go in the first period, it was 7-0.
Kirk Dahle took the next kickoff. He returned it to the 24. After an illegal procedure penalty, two Chad Anderson carries and a quarterback-keeper by Joe Johnson, the Vikings faced a fourth-and-one at the NB 33.
Viking head coach Dave Eyre decided to gamble and left his offense in. But, Irondale stopped the Vikings for a one-yard loss and took over with a short field in front of them. Three plays later, Irondale's cat-quick junior running back Chichi Ojika crossed the goal line. With 4:20 remaining, the home team was down 14-0.
After another three-and-out on the Vikings' next possession, Kost hit a towering punt that had a chance to give the Vikings their first decent field position. But, the Irondale return man slipped through the NB tacklers and returned the kick all the way to the Viking 36.
Two plays later, Irondale senior running back Wes Carlson started left, reversed field and rambled for another Knight TD. With 1:52 left in quarter one, the Vikings were in an all-too-familiar 21-0 hole.
Before the first period ended, the Vikings found themselves with another fourth down. On the first play of the new period, NB tried to stop the bleeding. The home team went for it on a fourth and two. That attempt came up short and Irondale scored on a 34 yard pass completion on its next play.
The Vikings were down by four touchdowns when they started with a first down on the 24, following a Dahle kickoff return. Johnson overthrew Sam Kalkbrenner streaking down the right sideline to set up second and 10. A Knight defender stopped that drive with an interception on the next play. Four plays later, the score was 34-0 with 9:30 left in the half.
Junior Danny Schoess returned the kickoff to the 25. Johnson carried on first down, good enough for a first down on the 35. Chad Anderson gained one on first down. Johnson was leveled as he tried to throw on second. On third down, Johnson pitched left to Anderson, who bulled his way to the Vikings' 46. With 7:32 left, North Branch had it's second consecutive first down and something they hadn't enjoyed yet, good field position.
But, that drive was snuffed when a third-down reception by junior Jake Lenards left the Vikings inches short of a third consecutive first down. After a Viking punt, the Irondale return and a frustration-born personal foul, NB's defense lined up on its own 43. With one minute to go in the half, Ojika scored, again, and the Homecoming crowd looked up to see a 40-0 score.
Starting on their own 30, the Vikings gave their fans something to cheer about. Senior Cole Willcoxen took the snap, dropped back and lofted the ball downfield. Junior Cody Kosman ran under the pass down the right sideline. The completion gave the Vikings a 40 yard gain and a first down at the 30, in Irondale territory for the first time. But, time ran out before the Vikings could score.
Any hope of a second-half miracle vanished in the first 16 seconds of the final half. That's how long it took the Knights to run back the second-half kickoff and take a 47-0 lead.
The final Irondale points came on a field goal with 6:58 remaining. The Vikings had two opportunities to break into the scoring column in the last few minutes. Two Irondale fumbles gave the Vikings the ball, but the local boys failed to convert and the score remained Irondale 59, North Branch 0.
Irondale 21 19 13 6 59
North Branch 0 0 0 0 0
The Vikings play at Chisago Lakes Friday, September 21 before returning home for games against highly ranked Spring Lake Park (9/28) and Totino-Grace (10/5).