October 23, 2014 at 2:30 p.m.
Big Lake saw it differently, and capitalized on a myriad of North Branch errors to send the Vikings to 2-6 during the MEA-shortened week on Wednesday, October 15.
The Vikings started the game with a bit of an attitude. They passed the ball effectively, but also mixed in some impressive runs that went either way.
They capped their opening drive off with a three yard touchdown run from senior captain Michael Hensch, and things were going according to plan for North Branch. Evan Amunrud’s extra point made it 7-0 in favor of the Vikes.
On Big Lake’s first possession their offense was on full display with their unique sets and plays.
The Hornets don’t use a lot of traditional backfields, preferring to operate out of the shotgun with a lot of motion before the snap.
The deception kept the North Branch defense off balance as Big Lake marched downfield.
They even finished their drive off with a little trickery. From the two yard line, quarterback Trent Monson lined up in the shotgun, but after taking a look, it seemed he didn’t like what he saw. So he crept towards the line to make line adjustments for the linemen, but suddenly took the snap and bowled his way easily into the end zone for the equalizer. Big Lakes extra point was good, and it was 7-7.
North Branch’s next drive was moving well, entering Big Lake territory quickly. But an ill-advised long throw from Pilz to the end zone was intercepted by a Big Lake defensive back, and the tables were turned.
Big Lake used their jet sweeps and misdirection to pound back down the field and score a touchdown from their quarterback Monson, another short yardage sneak.
After a stalled North Branch drive, Big Lake took possession of the ball again, but this time it looked like the defense might hold. After a stop for a loss and a penalty, the Hornets faced a fourth and long from NB’s 42 yard line. It didn’t make much sense to punt, so the Hornets lined up to go for it.
Monson dropped back deep and launched a pass down the right sideline, and it floated just above the North Branch defender’s outstretched hand and into Colin Teigen’s hands for a Big Lake score.
The Vikings blocked the ensuing extra point, leaving them down by 13 at 20-7.
It didn’t take long for the Vikings to make a statement that they weren’t out yet.
On the third play of their next drive, Hensch took a counter to the left and split a couple defenders before juking a last one out of his cleats. He was off to the races after that and none of the defenders could catch him as he finished off the 63 yard touchdown scamper.
Amunrud missed the extra point wide and NB was down 20-13 just before halftime.
In the third quarter, the mistakes started to pile up for the Vikings. Special teams miscues, including a snap that hit a man in motion on a punt and a snap that came to the punter as he was looking to the right (at North Branch’s wide punt formation) started to really hurt NB.
They gave up two touchdowns in the quarter, one on another sneak by Monson and the other on a 51 yard touchdown pass from Monson to Tanner Teige.
The rocky patch in the game prompted a North Branch parent to make his way down from the stands onto the sideline, clearly upset and interacting with players until he was escorted from the sideline, still exclaiming his displeasure about how things were going.
With the game sitting at 34-13 and Big Lake just having scored their long touchdown, things certainly did look bleak. But Hensch came to the rescue again. This time, on the second play of North Branch’s drive right after the BL touchdown, he took a handoff 65 yards to paydirt, instantly sparking the Vikings and putting them back within two scores at 34-19 when the two point conversion failed.
The spark worked for one drive where the defense was able to stand tall but the offense couldn’t get back in rhythm they had the first series of the game. Outside of the big plays from Hensch, things just weren’t gelling for the offense.
Big Lake capitalized with two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, sealing the 48-19 victory.
Hensch finished the game with 138 yards on five carries with two touchdowns and four receptions for 14 yards and another score.
North Branch 28, St. Paul Harding 24
Just like last year when the Vikings went in as the fifth seed and the underdog on paper against Harding, North Branch came away with a win, showing the St. Paul schools what its like to play a little northern football.
The two teams looked to be pretty evenly matched throughout the first quarter. Nobody could really gain offense or when they did, they couldn’t finish drives. The battle of field position became vital and it bit the Vikings in the behind early.
With the ball at their own three yard line, the Vikings got the ball to Arik Steele, an absolute burner, but he got buried in the end zone for a Harding safety, putting the Knights up 2-0 early against NB.
On the next drive though, North Branch answered back in what seems like a theme for the night. No action went without a reaction on the scoreboard.
JT Hunzicker scored his first touchdown of the year on a one yard plunge to put NB up 6-2. They knew Harding would be going for two point conversions all night, so they struck first, converting on a Brandon Miller run to go up 8-2.
Harding took four minutes to answer back. They used the big play to move down the field, and capped it off with a 25 yard touchdown run with just over four minutes left.
North Branch went into their hurry-up mode on the next drive.
With four minutes left, they needed to make something happen down 10-8, and they did. Pilz completed a long pass to Jack Tholen that set up a one-yard touchdown pass to Hensch with 12 seconds left in the half that put NB up 14-10.
After NB couldn’t get moving on their first drive of the second half, they got the spark they needed when Harding fumbled the ball inside their own 20 yard line. Steele scooped the ball up and brought it back for a touchdown, putting NB up 21-10. They had to sweat out a flag on the play, but it was holding on the Knights that was declined.
Harding didn’t stay off the board long though, two drives later, they scored a touchdown to make it 21-18 and inch closer.
Pilz wasn’t done though.
The senior quarterback wanted his season to go on a bit longer.
He connected with Kennedy Ashley for a seven yard score with four minutes left to put the game nearly out of reach at 28-18.
Harding did add a touchdown late, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback as NB won 28-24.
The win puts NB on track to play top-seeded South St. Paul on Saturday, October 25 at 4 p.m. in South St. Paul.
Pilz ended the game eight-of-13 for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Hunzicker had 51 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and Hensch had 49 yards on nine carries.
Tholen had 41 yards on two catches for North Branch. Besides the big fumble recovery for a touchdown, Steele had 13 tackles and three tackles for loss on the defensive side of the ball.