October 21, 2010 at 8:56 a.m.
The Knights had won four in a row by a score of 173-32, or roughly 43-8 each game, including back-to-back 59-0 and 51-0 embarrassments.
With that recent history etched in the minds of this year's seniors, they finally took a stand against the bigger, stronger and more experienced 5A Knights.
Things looked bleak early for North Branch, though, and it appeared they may add another ugly chapter to the recent failures against Irondale. After the Knights received the kickoff, they clobbered the Vikes defense, moving down the field at will. They picked up massive chunks of yardage. Ten yards here, 12 yards there, and North Branch was immediately reeling as Irondale scored the opening touchdown to make it 7-0.
After a quick and fairly ineffective drive by the North Branch offense, Irondale ripped off yardage at a blistering pace again, moving the ball at will against the Viking defense.
With the help of a key penalty and a gut-check, the North Branch defense was able to stiffen up near the goal line, forcing Irondale to kick a 35-yard field goal that put them up 10-0.
That's when things began to click for the North Branch offense. They moved down the field with the precision of a scalpel-wielding surgeon. The ensuing drive went 17 plays in almost eight minutes, and it was capped off by a one-yard touchdown plunge by senior quarterback Scott Bossard. A Tony Ceroll extra point cut the lead to three at 10-7.
The drive was not only important on the scoreboard, but it also allowed the defense to rest up a bit, as they had been struggling against the Irondale run game.
The Knights didn't wait long, though, to recapture their 10 point lead. In three plays, the Knights went 88 yards, topped off by a 30-yard touchdown run that put them back up 17-7.
The offense wasn't going to let the Vikes get too down, though. Bossard orchestrated a seven play, 66-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard touchdown scamper by him for his second touchdown of the game. The Ceroll point after cut the lead back down to three at 17-14.
The two teams traded possessions for the rest of the half, and North Branch couldn't help but be encouraged by the fact that they were finally slowing the road-grading crew that was the Irondale run game.
In the third quarter, there was no scoring, but it was perhaps the most important quarter of the game. North Branch received the kickoff, and they began another fine drive.
They controlled the clock and moved the ball, keeping the Irondale offense at bay and the defense on the field, wearing them out.
The Vikings earned a first and goal from the eight-yard line on their first drive, and managed to move the ball all the way down to the one-yard line, but the Irondale defense made a stand on fourth down, leaving the Vikings with no points to show for their effective drive.
Irondale took over at their own one-yard line, but with no room to operate, they were stuck in the proverbial mud, as they went three and out and had to punt it away.
The Vikings took over near midfield, and the offense went back to work. They turned a midfield possession into a long, drawn-out drive, pounding away on the breathless Knight defense. Again, the drive didn't end with any points, but it took the the game into the fourth quarter. The Vikings had held the ball -- sapping energy from Irondale's defense -- for nearly 10 minutes of the third quarter. Irondale only ran four plays the whole quarter, all four of them inside their own five.
Although the Vikings didn't capitalize on their fine drives, they set up themselves nicely with a tired Irondale defense in the fourth quarter.
"The third quarter was a huge tunrning point as our offense kept possession of the ball for all but four plays of the quarter," Head Coach Justin Sawyer said. "Sometimes the best defense is a good offense."
After a stop to open the final stanza of the game, North Branch took over at Irondale's 35-yard line after a nice punt return by Zack Smith.
The Vikes took four minutes off the clock, taking eight plays to make it to the end zone on a Bossard dive to the right, his third score of the night. Ceroll's extra point stretch North Branch's first lead of the night to four at 21-17.
The Vikes defense proved to be a whole new animal in the second half, forcing Irondale into a harmless three-and-out on their next drive. The North Branch offense took over and struck quickly off of the arm and legs of Bossard. His passing moved the ball down the field, and his running finished the drive off, scoring his fourth touchdown of the game on a five-yard touchdown plunge. Ceroll's point after stretched the lead to 28-17.
Offensive coordinator Bull Baumann said he was "going for the kill" on that drive, as the Vikings moved the ball through the air, something most would consider risky with only a four-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Irondale wasn't quite ready to give it up, however.
Their next drive, they went to the air, and moved the ball with ease into North Branch's territory. As they moved closer to the goalline, they started to run out of room to work with the passing game.
At the two-yard line on third down, North Branch stuffed the Irondale runner for no gain, putting them into a pickle on fourth down. With Irondale trailing by 11 with five minutes left, they could've kicked the field goal and been down by one score at eight points. But, their coach went for the touchdown instead, and it proved to be a disaster. Their quarterback dropped back to pass and rolled to his right as he was looking into the endzone for a receiver, North Branch's Brandon Brindley was flying at the quarterback's blind side from all the way on the other side of the field. Right as Brindley was closing in, the quarterback caught him out of the corner of his eye and tried to juke him, but it was too late, as Brindley wrapped him up for a 14-yard sack and a turnover on downs.
The game looked to be in the books for North Branch, as they could run out a lot of clock and go home celebrating, but the wildness was just beginning.
After three straight running plays by North Branch, they were forced to punt the ball away to Irondale. The Knights took over with four minutes left, and managed to score a touchdown on a 19-yard pass while only taking two minutes off the clock.
They went for two to trim the lead to only a field goal, but the Vikings stuffed it, leaving Irondale with only one option to win, a touchdown.
On the ensuing onside kick, North Branch recovered it with two minutes left and only one Irondale timeout remaining.
The Vikes were obviously going to run the ball, but on the second run, Bossard broke through the right side of the stacked line and raced 46 yards for his fifth touchdown of the game. Although the touchdown was a huge sigh of relief for the North Branch sideline, it didn't help them as much as they'd like. If Bossard could've taken a knee inside the five instead of finishing the touchdown run off, the Vikes could've ran the clock out from their and celebrated their victory.
But, since they scored so fast, Irondale got the ball back with a minute and a half remaining. Disaster struck for North Branch when Irondale marched 63 yards in less than a minute to score another touchdown on a 17-yard pass. The extra point made it 35-30 North Branch, and Irondale had one last gasp at an onside kick and a score.
Although it bounced around a little more than anyone on the sideline would've liked, North Branch recovered the onside kick, and they took a knee from the victory formation to grab their first win over Irondale in five years.
"This was a huge win on the road for our team!" Sawyer said after the come-from-behind victory. "We came out of gates a little slow, but really turned things on against a team that is bigger than us and has more seniors than we have juniors and seniors combined."
The offense really clicked on the night, putting up 364 yards of total offense and scoring 35 points.
Bossard had a huge game scoring all five of the Vikings' touchdowns. He rushed for 122 yards on 19 carries and threw for 116 yards on eight-of-11 passing.
Sawyer said that other key performances came from Wide receiver/defensive back Jared Houle, who recorded 11 tackles and had two big catches. Senior David Leason led the receivers with 51 yards receiving. And Zack Smith had another quality game, albeit a little quiet by his standards, running for 87 hard fought yards on 22 carries.
Carl Neumann and Brindley came up big on the defensive side. Neumann recorded eight tackles while Brindley recorded six tackles with the huge fourth down sack.
Brett Klun and Zack Sundly each added five tackles as well.
"As a team we are really playing well and gaining momentum as we prepare for the playoffs," Sawyer mentioned. "I'd like to send a 'thank you' to the community and fans for all of your continued support!"
The community will have at least one more opportunity to cheer on the Vikings at home as they took on Totino-Grace earlier this week. Because of the MEA break in school, varsity football games were held on Wednesday this week instead of the traditional Friday.
Although the Vikes face an uphill battle against the 6-1 Eagles, they have momentum on their side and a batch of passionate seniors that hate to lose a game.
North Branch will play at Hill Murray on Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m.
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