October 11, 2018 at 1:29 p.m.
During a tie game with under one minute left in the contest, Duluth Denfeld attempted a pass in their own territory that was picked off by North Branch’s Thomas Wurdemann. The turnover eventually set up an Eric Nadeau rushing touchdown with just 16 seconds left in game and gave the Vikings a 22-16 win at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth on Friday, October 5.
Denfeld got the scoring started in the second quarter after North Branch’s center sailed a snap over the punters head. The Hunters then scored on a 19 yard touchdown run by Dominic Klaas, who also scored the two point conversion, but it didn’t take long for North Branch to answer back.
Thomas Wurdemann capped off a long NB offensive drive with a touchdown run and a two point conversion run to boot, tying the game at 8-8.
North Branch’s defense remained stout for the rest of the half and into the third quarter, but they had a breakdown eventually. Midway through the third quarter, Wryott Gerson broke free for an 86 yard touchdown reception from Denfeld quarterback Kade Shea to give the Hunters a 14-8 lead. They converted the two point conversion on a pass from Shea to Erick Nelson to stretch the lead to 16-8.
Wurdemann, a senior, would not be outdone though, late in the fourth quarter, he capped off another North Branch drive with a touchdown. He also made good on the very important two point conversion to tie the game back up at 16-16 and put pressure on Denfeld to try and finish the game in their favor.
That pressure led to Denfeld’s colossal mistake late in the game.
Shea dropped back to pass and wanted to hit a crossing pattern over the middle, but Wurdemann had dropped back perfectly into coverage from his linebacker spot and Shea never saw him. He floated the ball to his receiver, but Wurdemann snatched it easily for the interception on North Branch’s 45.
The Vikings had all three of their timeouts and ran a few plays, but only got a handful of yards on each one. They found themselves on Denfeld’s 30 yard line with just one timeout left. “We figured we’d run one more time and then start throwing to the end zone,” Head Coach Justin Voss said. But, they wouldn’t need to throw. They ran a trap play and a couple of key blocks sprung Nadeau into the secondary, where he made the second level miss and he was off to the races for a 30 yard touchdown with 16 seconds left in the game.
The trap was set up perfectly by the offensive line. The left side of the line, Jack Schmidt and Austin Stephens, set up a perfect wall and Isaac Maki executed his pull and nailed the kickout block to open the lane. Once Nadeau was through that lane, the sophomore fullback took over from there.
Nadeau’s touchdown wrapped up North Branch’s third straight victory. “The guys worked so hard in this game, it was just some mistakes in Denfeld’s redzone that kept them in the game,” Voss said. “We want to win each moment, and they came up big when they needed to. Despite some momentum seemingly going Denfeld’s way often, our guys had a will to not lose that game.”
The win has given North Branch sole possession of the second seed in the section, according to minnesota-score.net’s QRF ratings. They are firmly behind Hermantown, as the Hawks are 6-0 and have beaten North Branch this year 16-6, but the Vikings are ahead of 5-1 Cloquet, due to their win over the Lumberjacks, and are building a gap between themselves and Duluth Denfeld, Hibbing and Grand Rapids, the bottom seeds. As long as North Branch can finish as one of the top four seeds, they would get either a bye (top two) or a home game (three or four) in the first round of sections.
The Vikings will take on Grand Rapids this week on Friday, October 12. The Thunderhawks are 1-5 on the year and have been up and down. They lost to Hibbing, who North Branch crushed at homecoming two weeks ago, but played a very tight contest with Duluth East last week, losing 20-16 just a couple weeks after the Greyhounds beat North Branch, so clearly Rapids is trending upwards.
“We have to be able to keep our eyes on the prize. Rapids’ record isn’t indicative of how good a football team they are. That doesn’t tell their story. “We’ve done a good job growing each game and each day in practice, but we have to continue to do that. We can’t get comfortable just because we’ve won three games in a row,” Voss said. “We have to continue to put ourselves in good spots.”