October 19, 2018 at 8:06 a.m.
But, that’s not how the games are played, and the 1-5 Thunderhawks proved to be a bit tougher than expected. However, once North Branch cleaned up their errors, they won comfortably to keep an inside track to a top two section seed and a potential bye in the first round of playoffs.
The Vikes started the game with Dan Hoveland under center. Hoveland had started the first two games of the season before giving way to Kobe Chouinard, who had propelled North Branch to their wins over Cloquet and Hibbing. But, with Chouinard out, Hoveland took over the reins, but didn’t last the whole first half before coming out for Nick Hunziker, a standout linebacker and back up quarterback.
The change came despite North Branch leading 16-7, but the lead could’ve been much more as there was a a few drives that stalled or resulted in turnovers deep in Grand Rapids territory.
The Thunderhawks opened the scoring on a fluky run. GR quarterback Brendan Morlan ran the read option, but was instantly swallowed up by the defensive line of North Branch. Him and running back Brock Holm were very close to fumbling at their mesh point, but Morlan got it to Holm at the last second and he only had to shake one defender off of him as the rest of the line was hanging on the quarterback.
When Holm popped out of the stalled pile, it took the rest of the defenders by surprise and he ran 50 yard untouched to the endzone to put Rapids up 6-0. The extra point made it 7-0 early for the Hawks.
North Branch quickly struck back on their next drive though. After a few chunk plays, senior bulldozer Thomas Wurdemann cleared a path near midfield and ran past the overmatched Rapids’ defense, he finished the run for a 53-yard touchdown trim the lead to 7-6. Hoveland kept the ball on a keeper for the two point conversion, giving NB the 8-7 lead.
Grand Rapids fumbled the ensuing kick return, and it a Drew Wilmet recovery set the Vikings up with great field position. But, a penalty and a few lost yardage plays resulted in a punt for the Vikings. After one more series with Hoveland, the Vikings made the change to Hunziker, and he paid off their decision with his first rushing touchdown of the seaosn on the next drive. The two-point conversion made it 16-7 in favor of North Branch midway through the second quarter.
As time was ticking down after a defensive stop, North Branch moved the ball well off a big Hunziker run, and they were down inside the five yard line, ready to strike again before halftime. But Hunziker took a sack on the next play, taking some of the options away from the offense. They ended up falling short of scoring, leaving the game at 16-7 despite multiple opportunities to stretch that lead.
In the third quarter, Hunziker continued to pay dividends for the switch, scoring another rushing touchdown for North Branch and continuing his impressive debut. The Vikes missed the two point conversion but extended their lead to 22-7.
Meanwhile, the defense was eating up Grand Rapids’ offense. The Thunderhawks couldn’t get anything going on the ground or through the air. Isaac Maki, Dawson Drost, Austin Stephens, Gavyn Jensen-Schneider and Company made sure that Rapids didn’t do anything with their offensive opportunities.
With just over seven minutes left in the game, sophomore Ben Nadeau iced the game with his first touchdown run of the night, stretching the lead to 28-7. With the successful two point conversion, NB went up 30-7, which would end up being the final tally on the night.
North Branch beat Proctor on their MEA shortened week 50-6. That earned them the third seed in Section 7AAAA and they'll host Grand Rapids again on Tuesday, October 23 at 7 p.m.