September 9, 2010 at 9:54 a.m.

EXTRA TIME, EXTRA HEARTBREAK

Three overtime thriller in St. Louis Park slips away from Vikings
EXTRA TIME, EXTRA HEARTBREAK
EXTRA TIME, EXTRA HEARTBREAK

St. Louis Park 44, North Branch 42

Some things just wouldn't go North Branch's way last week in their electrifying, but equally disappointing, 44-42 loss to St. Louis Park.

Opening their season on a Thursday, the Vikings traveled to St. Louis Park to take on the Orioles, who finished 2-7 last year.

The game got going quickly when North Branch received the opening kickoff and pounded it down SLP's throat. Their spread option attack befuddled the Oriole defense as senior quarterback Scott Bossard and senior running back Zack Smith marched their way down the field, capping with a one-yard touchdown plunge by Bossard.

David Leason nabbed a pass from Bossard for the two-point conversion, and just like that, North Branch enjoyed an 8-0 lead.

After a defensive stop, North Branch took over in their own territory. They were able to keep their offense chugging along until one small mix up resulted in a big swing in the score.

On a designed bubble screen to the outside, both North Branch receivers thought they were the primary target on the play and neither one picked off the defensive back. The mix up resulted in SLP's Scott Foltz easily stepping in front of Bossard's pass and returning it 60 yards to paydirt. A Zach Brown two-point conversion tied the game at 8 in the beginning of the second quarter.

North Branch quickly answered back though. They restarted their drive down the field and had no problem pushing the SLP defense around and running for big chunks of yardage.

Their third big drive was capped off with another short touchdown run by Bossard, a three-yard one, and it put the Vikings back on top. The ensuing two-point conversion, which the Vikings were forced into because their kicker, soccer player Tony Ceroll, had a game at Columbia Heights the same night, was snuffed out and the game remained 14-8 in favor of North Branch.

On the third play of the next drive for the Orioles, Brown, who was the offensive stud for SLP, took a screen just over 60 yards to the North Branch 10-yard line.

Senior wideout Tre Munson, who led the metro with over 1,100 receiving yards last year, finished off the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run. A Matt Cichoski extra point gave St. Louis Park its first lead of the game at 15-14.

Although North Branch threatened again before halftime, they couldn't get close enough to heave the ball into the end zone and ended up punting it to make sure St. Louis Park didn't put any more points on the board before the buzzer sounded.

In the third quarter, the Vikings jumped back out in front of the Orioles on another long, sustained drive. This time, Smith got in on the scoring action, bringing the ball in from six yards out to put North Branch up 20-15. Bossard bull-rushed his way into the end zone for the two-point conversion and a seven point lead for NB.

Not long the Vikes extended their lead to eight, St. Louis Park started to get something going besides a few big plays. They started pounding the ball up the middle with Brown, who had over 800 yards rushing last year as a junior, and they were getting good chunks of yards every time.

They mixed in a few passes to Munson all of a sudden they were knocking on North Branch's door at the end of the third quarter. Brown topped off their long drive with a five yard run, and Cichoski chipped in his second extra point of the game to the tie the score at 22.

The fourth quarter is when things started to get dicey. Both teams put together drives that went deep into their opponents territory, but each time, the offenses would stall and they would be just a little too far out of field goal range.

The penultimate drive came with North Branch starting with the ball at their own 33-yard line with two and a half minutes left. Bossard, Smith and Luke LeVasseur all chewed up some chunks of yardage as North Branch moved into St. Louis Park territory.

With 1:50 showing on the clock, Smith took a handoff from midfield and raced through the St. Louis Park defense. With only one man to beat at the 15 yard line, Smith cut back towards the middle of the field to beat him, and in the process, Leason threw a big block to spring him to the inside and to what looked like the game-winning touchdown.

The problem was, the referee said that the SLP defender hadn't gotten his shoulders turned enough when Leason blocked him, and he threw a flag that brought the ball back out to the 25.

The Vikings still had enough ammo to win the game, though. They were on the 25 with a minute and a half to play, but the St. Louis Park defense scratched and clawed their way out of the hole and stood North Branch up before they could get in the end zone.

A few big heaves from SLP fell to the wayside and the two teams headed for overtime. "We played well on both sides of the ball in regulation, with the defense only giving up two touchdowns," Head Coach Justin Sawyer said. "The offense did a good job of controlling the clock throughout the game and scoring three times."

High school overtime rules dictate that each team gets the ball at the 10-yard line. Since nobody can get a first down without getting a touchdown or a penalty, it basically means each team gets four plays to score from the 10.

North Branch won the toss and elected to go on defense first. On the third play, Brown plunged into the endzone from six yards out for SLP to score them the first touchdown. Brown pushed the lead to eight with a two-point conversion.

North Branch moved down to the one-yard line in three plays, and they knew if they wanted to extend the game anymore, they would have to convert their fourth and goal from the one. The coaches called Smith's number, and he barrelled his way into the endzone to pull North Branch within two. Bossard pushed the game to the second overtime when he shoved his way into the end zone for a successful two-point conversion.

North Branch had to start on offense in the second extra session, and on a designed sweep play, Smith went around the end on the second play to score a touchdown from seven yards out. However, a dropped two-point conversion left the door open for St. Louis Park.

Sure enough, on third down from the two, Brown scored his third touchdown of the game to tie the score at 36. With any point giving them the win, SLP trotted Cichoski back out to try to make his third extra point of the game. He had missed a field goal earlier, but it was more of a bad snap than a bad kick. This time, it was a good snap, good hold but Cichoski just shanked it a little too much, and it bonked off of the left upright and straight back, sending the North Branch sideline in a frenzy as they knew the game was going to a third overtime.

North Branch started the third OT with a great play, stuffing Brown for a five-yard loss, giving St. Louis Park three plays to put it in from the 15. They only needed one, though, going with a risky pass that they converted into a 15 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jacolbi Courington-Meier to DJ Pollard.

The Orioles went back to the air again for the two-point conversion and Munson snagged it down to put SLP up 44-36. North Branch scored on their third play, a seven-yard touchdown run by LeVasseur, and the game came down to the two-point conversion. The Vikes went back to their sweep, which had been working all night, but St. Louis Park finally stepped up and got a stop when they needed to, sending the home crowd into a raucous celebration and the NB side into a loathing nauseation.

"Overtime was a back and forth battle, just trading touchdowns," Sawyer remarked. "Overtime is pretty rare in high school and a triple overtime game is an exciting experience for the kids and fans. We would have loved to start the year with a win, but there is a lot of season left to get where we need to be for the playoffs. We saw a lot of good things and some things that need improvement. Penalties played a huge part in the game and definitely affected the outcome of the game."

For North Branch, Smith, not unlike last year's monster game against Chisago Lakes, came out of the gates firing. He had 232 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries. Bossard went four-for-10 passing with 31 yards and one touchdown. He also carried the rock 18 times for 81 yards and two touchdowns. LeVassuer had 39 yards on four attempts, including a touchdown. He also led the team in tackles, gathering 12 of them on the defensive side of the ball.


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