October 29, 2009 at 8:23 a.m.
Starting quarterback Scott Bossard had the flu all week, and fullback Luke LeVasseur and kicker Brian Grand were both going to miss the game because of injuries.
Bossard felt well enough to play in the game, but junior Forrest Huset took the snaps during the first series for the Vikings.
That series turned disastrous after a quick three down sequence left the Vikings in fourth and 18 from inside their own 10 yard line. After a high snap delayed punter Zack Smith a little too much, he took off with the pressure coming. He wasn't able to advance the ball far though, only bringing it out to the nine-yard line and St. Francis took over on downs with an extremely short field to work with.
A few plays into that drive and St. Francis junior running back Michael Scardigli pushed the ball over the goal line for the first score of the game. The Saints missed on their two-point conversion attempt, but enjoyed a six-point lead.
The inauspicious beginning was just the first in a long night of miscues and missed opportunities for the Vikings. "This was a rough game for us," said first year Head Coach Justin Sawyer. "Not much went our way. St. Francis played a tough game of smash mouth football and we didn't smash back."
After another stalled North Branch offensive drive forced a punt into the wind, Smith's boot took a bad bounce and gave St. Francis phenomenal field position again. They used it to their advantage and struck quickly. Senior quarterback Anthony Carlton, who torched the Vikings last year in the regular season finale, connected with receiver Matt Polis for a 37-yard touchdown pass.
The Saints made good on their two point conversion this time and before the first quarter was even half over, the Saints enjoyed a two-score lead at 14-0.
The Vikings just kept struggling on offense. The line was breaking down too quickly and the St. Francis blitz was consistently getting to Bossard and Smith before they could read the field. "The offensive line struggled with picking up the St. Francis blitzes and had too many assignment mistakes to put together any substantial yardage," Sawyer explained.
The defense rose to the occasion though and kept St. Francis out of the end zone for the rest of the half. They made a goal line stand that forced the Saints to kick a field goal, but the game wasn't out of reach at 17-0 at halftime.
The biggest problem, however, was that Smith was now a part of the long list of injured players. He had a hip pointer that prevented him from playing in the second half and that really limited the Vikings offense. With Smith and LeVasseur, their top two running threats on the year, out, the Vikings turned to a unique formation in the second half.
The Vikings back field included Bossard, Huset and Bryce Hutchings. But, the crinkle in the formation was that Huset and Bossard took turns taking snaps as the running back and quarterback. Each time the pair came to the line, it wasn't immediately clear who was going to receive the snap since both had the running and throwing ability.
A majority of the snaps still went to Bossard, however, and St. Francis quickly figured out that either player could get the ball.
With the depleted offense struggling to move the ball out of their own territory, the St. Francis offense was like wolves on a wounded deer. They moved quickly when given the opportunity, and the North Branch defense could only hold them at bay for so long. Scardigli and Kyle Allen added a pair of rushing touchdowns for the Saints in the third quarter as they stretched their lead to 31-0.
They also added another short field goal on to their tally to run the score up to 34-0.
The Vikings avoided the shutout late when Bossard, who had been beaten up all game, started doling out some of the punishment on the St. Francis defense. After a few long punishing runs, Bossard called his own number on a quarterback keeper to finish off the drive with a two-yard touchdown.
The two point conversion was no good, but at that point, it didn't matter much. The Vikings were playing for pride then, not for a win.
"St. Francis just seems to pick it up at the end of the year," Sawyer said after the Saints upset the Vikes for the second year in a row. "They just show significant improvement over the course of the season."
Bossard was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal performance by North Branch, and even he struggled at times. He had 21 rushes for 69 yards and a touchdown, but he had trouble connecting with receivers throughout the game, going just one-for-five passing for 10 yards and a pick.
Erik Chouinard was all over the field on the other side of the ball, making 16 tackles on a busy night for the defense. Alex Reed had seven tackles, and Hutchings added six.
Because of the way Section 4 is seeded, the Vikings were given the eighth seed, underneath East Ridge, who was 0-8 on the year. The way the section point system works in this one is that teams get points for losses to bigger schools, and since East Ridge plays in the Suburban East Conference, which is loaded with 5A teams, they got more points for those losses. The two games that hurt North Branch the most was the loss to Columbia Heights, which is a 3A team, and the recent loss to St. Francis. The Saints are 5A, and a win would've gone a long way in the section seedings.
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