September 17, 2009 at 8:29 a.m.
After coming off their biggest win in years, the North Branch Vikings came out a little too flat against a rejuvenated Fridley team on Friday, Sept. 11.
The Tigers, who pounded Columbia Heights 41-6 in their season opener, effortlessly scored on their first three possessions before the Vikings could display the staunch defense that held the Chisago Lakes Wildcats to only 14 points in that season opener.
On all three of the early drives that ended in touchdowns, the Tigers used a lethal combination of quarterback Ericson Saye and running backs Jimmy Mireri and Jordan Halverson to pound and slash their way down the field.
Mireri and Saye, the two speedsters in Fridley's spread option offense, constantly gained the outside corner against the Vikings' defense, and tired them out running side to side. Once they had North Branch's defense breathing heavily, Saye simply handed the ball off up the middle to Halverson, who regularly carried at least one Viking with him as he plowed for extra yards after the first contact.
The offense wasn't helping matters, either. Junior running back Zack Smith, who had a breakout 200-yard performance last week against Chisago Lakes, was swarmed and harrassed in the backfield for the whole game and ended with 21 yards on 14 carries. Without Smith's legs pumping forward, the Vikings struggled to move the ball with any consistency for most of the first half.
But, after the first three drives, the North Branch defense stiffened up. When they finally forced a punt from Fridley, Luke LeVasseur busted through the Tiger line and blocked the punt. The offense was unable to capitalize on the opportunity, however, and North Branch turned the ball over on downs.
The defense remained solid for the rest of the half, only giving up one more touchdown, until they got Scott Bossard and the rest of the offense the ball back around midfield with only a minute and a half left. Taking the game to the air, Bossard used a few big passes LaVasseur, Sean Franks and Kyle Grote to move the ball down to the 11-yard line with only a few ticks left on the clock.
Bossard then hooked up with David Leason, who caught the ball in the middle of the field at the five-yard line, and he battled his way through a wave of Fridley defenders to just barely break the plane and grab his first touchdown of the season. The clock had just under two seconds on it when Leason finally scored.
Brian Grand converted the extra point and sent the the Vikings to halftime with a glimmer of hope. They had just moved more in one drive through the air than they had most of the game on the ground.
The 'D' continued to play strong in the third quarter, limiting Fridley to short drives and getting the offense good field position. After a Grote interception, the Vikings again had the ball in Fridley territory with a chance to trim the lead to two scores. After a big passing gain on their first play, the Vikes followed it up by giving up a sack and throwing two incompletions. Brian Grand trotted out to attempt a 40-yard field goal, the longest attempt of his two-year career as the kicker for North Branch. He put a boom on the kick, but sent it just left of the uprights and the Vikings again couldn't take advantage of the good field position.
Immediately following the missed field goal, the NB defense gritted their teeth and forced a three-and-out from Fridley. On the ensuing punt, LeVasseur sliced through Fridley's coverage unti and returned it deep into the Fridley territory. Althought they did move the ball some, it was enough to get in the endzone. Grand took another shot at a shorter field goal, and this time made good on the kick to chop the lead to 28-10 early in the fourth quarter.
On Fridley's next drive, the defense got some momentum and forced the Tigers into a third-and-long situation in their own territory. As expected, Fridley aired the ball out deep down field to a double-covered Devin Hemmerich. While Sean Graff and another North Branch defender had him bracketed perfectly and simply played the ball, the referee thought he saw some contact and threw a flag for interference on the Vikings. Instead of getting the ball back trailing by 18 with a good chunk of time left, the penatly allowed Fridley to keep the ball and grind down the clock even more.
The deflated Vikings defense just couldn't recover from the penalty and Fridley punched in another score to go up 35-10.
The North Branch offense started to click, however, but it was a little too late. Taking to the air again, Bossard directed the Vikes down the field until they were knocking on the door at the one-yard line. The junior quarterback finished the drive off with a one-yard plunge to add six points to the Vikings tally. Grand's point after was blocked, and the score stood at 35-16. After a failed onside kick, Fridley moved the ball down the field one last time for another touchdown and extra point. The final score stood at 42-16 in favor of the Tigers.
Bossard had a pretty good day heaving the pigskin, going 15-of-26 for 139 yards and a touchdown. He also had the unique stat line of rushing seven times for -12 yards, but he scored the Vikes' only touchdown on the ground.
The beneficiary of most of Bossard's passes was LeVasseur, who snagged seven catches for 65 yards. Leason grabbed three balls for 35 yards, including a touchdown.
Senior backer Erik Chouinard was among the leaders on the defense for the second straight week. He made 11 tackles for the Vikings' D. Junior lineman Zack DeAdder had four tackles and a sack and Grote had five tackles and North Branch's lone pick.
Next week, the Vikings stay at home to host Columbia Heights. The Hylanders are mired in a 13-game losing streak dating back to Oct. 12 of 2007. North Branch's lone win from last year came against Heights in a 21-0 shutout.