October 7, 2010 at 9:48 a.m.
Four losses by four slim margins indicated that he wasn't far off in that statement. A break here or a break there, and the Vikings could very well have been sitting at 4-0 instead.
This week, however, with conference doormat Columbia Heights on the schedule, and an angry Vikings squad hellbent on getting their first win of the year, Sawyer's team put it all together and earned a blowout win, 47-13.
After the North Branch defense shut down Heights' attack on the first drive, Luke Levasseur got things going on the Vikings on offense when he punctuated their first drive with basically two touchdown runs. From the 10-yard line, Levasseur tore to the left side and scored a touchdown, only to have a holding call bring the ball back to the 16-yard line. On the very next play, Levasseur went left again, and found paydirt against, this time sans any yellow cloth on the field, and the Vikings were up 6-0. A Zach Sundly kick made the game 7-0 as normal kicker Tony Ceroll had his wisdom teeth removed earlier on Friday.
Columbia Heights answered back, however, showing some flair at their own homecoming, as they went to the air and turned to the second leading rusher in Class 4A, Jojuan Harper. Harper and quarterback Nick Liebelt moved the ball down the field, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Harper, and a tie game.
Then, the Vikings went to work. Early in the second quarter, facing a second and long from Columbia Heights' 38-yard line, quarterback Scott Bossard dropped back to pass and found Forrest Huset near the five-yard line. Huset out-jumped and out-muscled Jerome Andrews of Heights and came down with the ball. In one fluid motion, Huset turned towards the goal line, and used every bit of his six-foot, five-inch frame to stretch the ball across the little white line. The referee ruled it a touchdown, and North Branch was back on top after a Sundly kick made it 14-7.
After the North Branch defense kept the clamps on Harper, who hadn't rushed for less than 100 yards in a game on the year, the Hylanders were forced to punt again.
The Vikings put another solid drive together, and it culminated with an awfully similar result as the second one. From the Hylanders' 28-yard line, Bossard dropped to pass on third down and found Huset streaking across the middle. The senior receiver nabbed it for a first down, but had bigger things in mind as he turned and sprinted up field. He dodged tacklers for the last 15 yards and slithered his way into the end zone in between two Heights' defenders for his second touchdown of the game. Sundly's ensuing extra point was blocked, but North Branch held a 20-7 lead going into halftime.
In the second half, not much changed. North Branch received the ball and after a solid kick return, they had good field position. After moving the ball some, they faced a third down near midfield. They ran a little screen play to their own stud running back, Zack Smith, and he made the Heights' defense pay, flying through the hole that his offensive line created downfield and bullying his way past the second level for a 55-yard touchdown catch-and-run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, and North Branch had a 26-7 lead.
Columbia Heights cut that down on their next drive, though. An innocent looking swing pass to Harper turned into a big gain for Heights, as he brought it inside the 10-yard line. The senior running back finished the drive off with another one-yard touchdown run. The extra point was blocked, but Heights' had trimmed the lead to 26-13.
North Branch quickly answered back -- dashing almost any hope the Hylanders had of a comeback -- when the offense moved the ball down the field quickly. The effective and crucial drive was capped off by a four-yard touchdown run by Smith, his second on the day. The extra point was blocked by Heights, but the Vikings still enjoyed a 32-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
Although the Hylanders were able to get the ball back, Levasseur quickly regained possesion for the Vikes when he picked off Liebelt near midfield and returned it deep into Columbia Heights territory.
The Viking offense, which had been scorching hot all night, took the field again, this time within striking distance already. But, the first couple plays resulted in penalties and drive was just disjointed. On third and long from Columbia Heights' 24-yard line, Bossard did what he had done best all night -- dropped back to pass and tossed it for a jump ball to Huset in the end zone. This time, Huset abused Josh Olayiwola as he came down with the ball for his third touchdown catch of the night. Smith finished the drive with a successful two-point conversion and North Branch was up 40-13.
The Vikings punctuated their victory early int he fourth quarter when Smith took the hand off right and rumbled 18 yards for the final touchdown of the game. Sundly's kick made it 47-13.
After that drive, North Branch brought in mostly junior varsity players to get some action against the Hylanders.
"Finally!" Sawyer said after the blowout win. "This was a huge night for us on both sides of the ball. Our offense put up 558 total yards behind a great performance from the offensive line, while our defense held Height to 191 total yards.
"It was fun to watch everything come together this week. We had played well on both sides of the ball at times but had not had a solid complete game performance yet."
Four seniors were the keys to the win on the night for the Vikings. Smith had 173 yards and two touchdowns on 22 rushes, and he added 69 yards and one touchdown on three receptions.
Huset made the most of his opportunies. The tall, lanky receiver made only three catches, but all were over 24 yards and all were for touchdowns as he finished with 85 yards and three scores on three catches.
Bossard was efficient passing the ball, and was his typical bruising self on the ground. He went 14-of-18 through the air, connecting with six different receivers for 248 yards and four touchdowns. Better yet, he didn't throw any picks during the contest. He also rushed for 81 yards.
Levasseur contributed on both sides of the ball with 42 yards rushing and one touchdown. Defensively, he had four tackles and the game-sealing interception.
Even with the efforts of those four, Sawyer credited the offensive line as a whole for their effort in leading the pace of the game. "The o-line took charge of the game and had their best game of the year," he said. "They opened up our running game and gave Scott plenty of time to pass."
Leading the defense was Zak Carchedi with 11 tackles, Carl Neumann with eight, and Jared Houle and Kerry Konrad with seven tackles each.
Despite the blowout and all the positives in the game, there was still things Sawyer knows it was far from a perfect game. "Of course, there are still plenty of things for us to work on this week," he said. "A couple of areas that need some improve are missed tackles and penalties (they had 10 penalties in the game)."
Up next is a tilt with the 3-2 St. Francis Fighting Saints. After starting the year 3-0, including a last-second 17-15 win over Benilde-St. Margaret's, St. Francis has lost back-to-back games to Irondale and Fridley, and sits at 3-2. It's North Branch's homecoming, and it will be a big game for this batch of seniors to impress and take revenge on the Saints, as St. Francis clobbered the Vikings at home last year.