October 15, 2009 at 8:39 a.m.
After the opening snap soared over quarterback Scott Bossard's head, the Vikings were relegated to a quick punt from their own end zone. After the Knights returned the kick to North Branch's 37-yard line, dangerous BSM quarterback Ben Krebsbach threaded a beautiful ball down the sideline to Peter Crawford for a one-play score and before fans were settled into their chilly metal benches, the score was 7-0 in favor of the Red Knights.
But, the Vikings shook off the early cobwebs and got down to business on their second drive. Behind a big scramble from Bossard, the Vikings quickly found themselves inside BSM's five-yard line, and that usually means one thing: Zack Smith is gunning for the end zone.
Smith, who had six touchdowns on the season coming into the game, finished the drive off with a punishing one-yard run.
With senior kicker Brian Grand playing a rescheduled soccer game and arriving late, the Vikings went for two points. Bossard tossed a tough ball to the end zone that looked like it was picked off, but Sean Franks came out of the pile with the ball in his hands and an 8-7 lead for the Vikings.
"We knew we were in for a shootout with Benilde's potent offense, but our offense stepped up to the challenge and showed our scoring potential," Head Coach Justin Sawyer said.
Although the ensuing kickoff didn't travel very far, the North Branch defense held the high-powered BSM offense to a punt. After a few minutes of jockeying for field position, the Red Knights again hit paydirt, this time stringing together a drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown scamper by junior Kyle McCarthy. The extra point banked off the upright, and the Vikings trailed 13-8.
North Branch's next drive stalled just outside of the red zone at the 21-yard line, but with Grand finally suited up -- after his two-goal performance against the BSM soccer team -- he trotted in and crushed the ball through the uprights for a 37-yard field goal to trim the lead to 13-11.
After a big return by the Red Knights on the kickoff, Grand again came up big. He latched onto the back of the returner as the last line of defense, and ended up knocking the ball loose, which North Branch recovered.
Not wasting anytime, Bossard went to the air again, hitting Franks for what looked like a marginal gain. Franks, however, had another idea. He broke free of two Red Knight defenders and blazed down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown reception. The score gave the Vikings the lead back, and after Grand knocked in the extra point, it was 18-13 in favor of the Vikes.
They weren't done in the first half, though. After another stand on defense, the Vikings drove the ball deep back into Benilde's territory to set up another score. Although they stalled at the 21-yard line this time, Grand knocked his second field goal of the game in and extended the lead to 21-13 in favor of North Branch.
Benilde wasn't going out that easily at home, though. They began the second half in the same fashion as they did the first. This time, it was a 36-yard hook up between Krebsbach and Crawford that drew the Red Knights closer to North Branch. A McCarthy two-point conversion tied the game at 21 early in the second half.
"They didn't make too many major adjustments," Sawyer explained. "We just didn't counter attack their run game, and our linebackers were just a little too passive."
The Vikings broke the tie when Grand converted his third field goal of the game a few minutes later. It was another 37-yarder booted from just outside the red zone. "Brian is a huge asset to our team" Sawyer said. "We were happy when he arrived after his soccer game, and he leads the state in field goals made, and is third in the state in scoring for kickers."
Although Grand did his job perfectly on the night, Sawyer was still left
wondering about the red zone efficiency of his team. Three times, the Vikings had the ball at the 20-yard line, and they came away with nine points. To hang with a high-scoring team like Benilde, it's crucial that those field goals be touchdowns most of the time. "We executed well in the red zone, we just couldn't finish the drives off," Sawyer said. "We need to be able to drive the dagger in when we have the chance. We moved the ball well, we just made a few costly mistakes."
Although the Vikings enjoyed the three-point lead, it quickly evaporated as Krebsbach started to get going on the ground and through the air. Three straight touchdowns for the Red Knights left the Vikings reeling at 40-24. The last touchdown hurt, because it came on the heels of a North Branch turnover in the red zone.
With the score still 33-24, North Branch was poised to score a touchdown and draw within two points of the Red Knights with plenty of time left, but a tipped Bossard pass floated into the arms of a BSM defender at the 10-yard line, and the drive was crushed.
The Red Knights went on to score on that drive and led by 16 points over NB. However, Bossard wasn't ready to go down without a fight. He connected with Luke LeVasseur for a big gain with Benilde playing prevent defense. Bossard followed that up with a touchdown run of his own from the one-yard line. He finished the drive off with a successful two-point conversion that drew the Vikings to within eight points at 40-32.
With only 38 seconds left, the Vikings had to go for the desperation onside kick. Grand booted the ball and as it skidded across the grass, it had some hope of landing in North Branch arms, but a big bounce at the end -- which is normally a good thing -- catapulted the ball right into the arms of a Red Knight. He fell to the ground and covered up as Vikings swarmed around him.
A few kneel downs ran the rest of the seconds off the clock, and North Branch had it's third gut-wrenching loss in the last four weeks.
"This was a hard-hitting game all the way through," Sawyer said. "Both teams wanted to run the ball and we pounded on each other all game long."
Smith led the rushing attack with 121 yards on 27 carries and one touchdown. Bossard checked in with 108 yards on 14 carries to go along with one touchdown. He was also nine-for-20 through the air for 181 yards and one touchdown.
Franks led the Vikings in receiving with two big catches, one going for 40 yards and a touchdown, and the other going for 44 yards. LeVasseur had two catches for 58 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Zak Carchedi led the Vikings with eight tackles and Erik Chouinard and Smith had seven each.
The Vikings are on a short week now, traveling to Robbinsdale Cooper tonight to take on the Hawks. Because of MEA week in school, the game was moved up a day. Next week, to get the regular season done in time for section, the game against St. Francis will be played on Wednesday night.
After struggling to sync the offense and defense together, Sawyer hopes the game against Cooper will be the breakout game for the Vikings, who have been itching to get back in the win column since the first week of the season.
Sawyer said that it will be up to the offensive line if they want to put up big points again. "When they want to push the ball up and down the field, they can," he said. "We will have to put it all together this week against Cooper. Defensively, we will have to stop their option running game, and offensively, we're going to need to have another big night."
Commenting has been disabled for this item.