October 18, 2012 at 9:06 a.m.
Head Coach Nick Nitti had always preached small steps for his team. He doesn’t have two-way players simply for the fact that it means twice the amount of practice for his defensive and offensive players. With more time spent focusing on the fundamentals of a certain position, the Vikings had been making steps -- especially on defense -- and winning games. Against the Irondale Knights last Friday night, they didn’t take a small step. They took a big step, and it was in the wrong direction. Irondale, led by senior quarterback Justus Canfield -- the same Canfield who helped ring up 40 points for Irondale last year against the Vikings --was just too much to handle from beginning to end for the Vikings and their defense. The first quarter was relatively uneventful and Irondale was the only team to score. They got six points off of a three yard touchdown run by Wil Kah and converted the extra point for a 7-0 lead. Things really got wild when the second quarter started.
Canfield began the scoring with a nine-yard touchdown run to put the Knights up 14-0. On the ensuing drive, the North Branch offense answered back with one of their big plays they’ve grown accustomed to this year. Senior quarterback Zack Sundly hit senior wideout Tony Denn for a 65-yard touchdown pass for the Vikings. The Logan Klatt extra point cut the lead in half at 14-7. But, two big plays from Irondale later and the Vikings were right back in a gigantic hole.Both were through the air. After taking over from North Branch after their score, Canfield hit wideout AJ Myles for a 58-yard touchdown pass, stretching the lead to 21-7. Then, after North Branch failed to answer back, Irondale struck quickly again, this time with Canfield throwing a 65-yard catch and run touchdown to Sam Yankey. After Irondale botched the extra point, they were up 27-7 and it looked like the rout was on. North Branch answered back with another Sundly to Denn touchdown, however, before the half ended. This one was of the 21-yard variety. Klatt missed the extra point and North Branch went into halftime down 27-13 against the Knights. The Vikings were still in it at that point and just needed a few breaks to go their way or a stop or two and they could be right back in the game. Then the third quarter happened. Irondale scored five touchdowns in the first stanza after halftime. Canfield ran for two of those touchdowns and threw for another one of them. The other two came from a 55-yard dash by Kah and a 57-yard punt return by Ben Ojika, younger brother to former Irondale running back and punt return sensation Chichi Ojika.
The explosive quarter left North Branch down 61-13 and with no hope of coming back. Most of the back ups trotted in for the fourth quarter for both teams. Irondale added one more score, a 10-yard touchdown run by Donovan Arthur that made the final 68-13 in favor of Irondale. The defeat left North Branch at 3-4 on the year and 3-3 in the North Suburban Conference. However, it didn’t completely eliminate them from earning a bye in the first round of sections. The Vikings took on Benilde-St. Margaret’s earlier this week on Wednesday. -- the early game is due to MEA weekend for the students -- and there is a few scenarios that could happen. Regardless of the outcome of the Benilde game, North Branch will host a playoff game. If they beat Benilde, they’ll earn the second seed and earn a bye in the first round. They would then likely play Princeton in the second round. If North Branch loses and Princeton also loses, North Branch would still most likely get the second seed and the bye that goes along with it and the rest of the above scenario would stick. If North Branch loses and Princeton wins, there is a good chance that Princeton would leapfrog the Vikings as the number two seed. If that scenario came into play, North Branch would be the third seed and would host Hibbing in the first round of sections. If they got past Hibbing -- who is 1-6 on the year -- they would travel to Princeton for the second round. Princeton, who is 4-3 on the year, took on Foley earlier this week. The Falcons were 5-2 heading into the game. Home games are key in this sections, because any travel for North Branch means they are moving even farther north where the weather is colder and becomes more of a factor. The section’s top seed will be Hermantown, who is 6-1 on the season. The first round of sections will be played on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
The second round is Saturday, Oct. 27 and the section finals are Friday, November 2. For all the updates on the section seeding and North Branch’s match ups, check out this story on www.chisagocountypress.com on Thursday afternoon. It will be updated with the brackets. EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, it was incorrectly reported in The County Press that this year was the first year the Vikings had been over .500 this late in the year in the 2000s. In fact, the Vikings finished above .500 in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004. The County Press regrets the error.
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