The Chouinard Show takes over NB's homecoming
Junior Eli Chouinard accounts for three touchdowns and over 200 total yards in the Vikings' 31-6 win over Duluth East
The Chouinard Show takes over NB's homecoming
There hasn’t been a day in the last five years that there wasn’t a Chouinard on the North Branch football roster. Starting with Erik, a linebacker, and then Cade, another defensive standout, and now Eli Chouinard, who is the speedster of the bunch.
Chouinard put that speed on display in North Branch’s 31-6 homecoming victory over the Duluth East Greyhounds on Friday, Sept. 27. Chouinard had 111 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries for North Branch, as well as a 92-yard kickoff return to open the second half that turned the game into a rout. The Vikings opened up on defense and although the Greyhounds moved the ball past midfield, the defense forced a turnover soon after. Three North Branch defenders stacked a runner up while another one came flying in and jarred the ball loose.
Sophomore Cole Pearson, making his first career start, scooped the ball up and returned it into East territory, setting the North Branch offense up with a short field. They took advantage, using their patented option attack to move down the field quickly against the small East front seven. There isn’t many teams North Branch will have a size advantage over, but the Greyhounds are one of them and it showed when Tony Denn punched the ball in from the one-yard line, giving North Branch a 6-0 lead. Dultuh East and North Branch then traded posessions until early in the second qaurter when North Branch took over on offense. They cut past the East defense, using big runs from Chouinard and fullback Kodie Koolmo to set them up inside East’s 10-yard line.
From there, Chouinard scored his first touchdown of the game from five yards out. The ensuing two-point conversion was good, as Chouinard waltzed into the end zone untouched, and NB had a 14-0 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, kicker Trey Oday was asked to squib the kick to keep it away from the East return men that were deep. Oday kicked it very hard and very low. One of East’s front line players foolishly tried to stick a hand out to stop the ball, and it just deflected and caused a major pile up near the Greyhounds’ 35-yard line. When the pile was cleared, North Branch had recovered the inadvertant onside kick, giving them possession in East’s territory.
The Vikings didn’t convert the short field into the touchdown, but they did drive close enough to send Oday out for a chance to hit his first field of the year. From the left hashmarks, Oday’s kick was true, splitting the uprights from 29 yards out and extending North Branch’s lead to 17-0 with only a few minutes to go before halftime. East did put together a little bit of a drive as the second quarter wound down, but it ended on a North Branch interception by Maverick Pate. The Vikings didn’t intend to take their foot of the pedal yet, and their speedster Chouinard was a perfect example. On the opening kickoff to the second half, Chouinard darted to the middle of the field and as most of the East defenders closed in, Chouinard bounced to the left and stretched the play outside. He just barely got the corner on the last man to beat to the outside and then it turned into a footrace, and Chouinard would not be denied as he blazed up the left sideline, leaving the demoralized Duluth East sideline in his dust. Oday’s kick was good and the Vikings led 24-0 with a half to go.
The third quarter turned into a stalemate for both teams. Each squad was moving the ball a bit, but neither could come through when it counted, and the Vikings defense was able to hang on to their shutout through three quarters of the game. In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Chouinard got his third score of the game, a one-yard touchdown run, that capped off an impressive mix of Denn, Koolmo and Chouinard’s running talent. Chouinard’s score put North Branch up 31-0 and allowed them to start streaming their substitutes into the game. Even with back up defensive players in for much of the fourth quarter, the Vikes clinged to their shutout until the very end. East eventually scored a touchdown with eight seconds left in the game, losing NB’s hope of earning their first shutout since a 21-0 victory over Columbia Heights in 2008. Chouinard led the team with the aformentioned 111 yards on 10 carries. Koolmo had 70 yards on 10 carries and Denn had 50 yards on eight carries. As a team, the Vikings rushed for 272 yards at a seven yard average.
Even backup quarterback Duston Goodroad ripped off a late impressive run that had him spinning around East defenders. He ended with 24 yards rushing. Along with Pate’s pick, Riley Jacobson also had an interception. It was one of four forced turnovers for the Vikings. They also had the two fumble recoveries.
Up next for the Vikings is a county showdown with Chisago Lakes. Both teams are recently coming off their homecoming games. North Branch has won two straight after dropping their first three games of the year and Chisago Lakes is coming off of their first loss of the year after starting 4-0. The Wildcats feature a loaded offense, and North Branch is going to have their hands full trying to stop the ‘Cats. The game is at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4. It will be broadcast WLKX 95.9 FM Sports