September 6, 2018 at 1:24 p.m.
Although the game was much closer than last years, North Branch pulled out the 36-31 win, giving new head coach Justin Voss his first career win.
Despite the result being the same with North Branch beating Princeton, the way the Vikings’ went about it was vastly different than last year. They ran the ball 38 times for 285 yards, and only attempted three passes on the night.
The game was back and forth, as no team ever had a two score lead. At one point, it looked like Princeton could do it, but Thomas Wurdemann bounced back from a tough play in what Voss thought was an early turning point in the game.
On a carry midway through the second quarter and Princeton up by a score, Wurdemann fumbled the ball and the Tigers pounced on it for the recovery. However, on Princeton’s ensuing drive, Wurdemann picked off the Princeton quarterback, getting North Branch the ball back without any damage done. “Thomas could’ve been down about that play, but he stayed focus and came up big for us,” Voss said. “That interception allowed us to gain the momentum back and not allow it to swing to far in Princeton’s favor.”
Lucas Hartmann did his part in making sure that momentum stayed with North Branch. The senior, who is making the transition from wide receiver to running back in Voss’s new offense, ran for 187 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
Voss praised Hartmann’s work before the season and his willingness to switch positions when he was featured as a receiver last year. The move paid off in a big way against the Tigers.
“We made some mistakes early, but we eventually turned those into positives,” Voss said. “Princeton is a good football team, but we did a nice job of staying focused when things got tough. We had so many guys playing both ways, and just the exhaustion of a first game, I was proud of how the guys responded to adversity and worked hard to swing the game in our favor.”
Dan Hoveland, who won a three-way quarterback competition out of preseason, played well for the Vikes and did what was asked of him. He was three-of-three passing for 50 yards and a touchdown. Hartmann was the benefactor of all of those throws. “Dan has a real laid back personality and a cool attitude, which we kind of need in the huddle,” Voss explained. “He doesn’t get too high or too low. His passes looked nice and he took care of the football. Of course, we’re still working on some things but it was a very nice step in the right direction.”
Late in the game, Voss noted another key moment for North Branch as Princeton was driving down by just one score. Drew VanEerden, who had given up a touchdown on a short slant earlier in the game, came up with a big interception that he wrestled away from the Princeton wide receiver on their way down to the ground. The turnover essentially wrapped the game up for the Vikings, and it was another case of a player staying focused despite a mistake earlier. “He kept his head up and didn’t make any more mental mistakes,” Voss said. “And it helped us win the game in the end.”
The defense played well as a unit despite the 31 points allowed. They forced two turnovers and Austin Stephens, Isaac Maki, Dawson Drost and Gavyn Jensen-Schneider all had sacks on the game. Wurdemann led the team with 11 tackles and Jensen-Schneider had 10 tackles and a forced fumble to go along with his sack.
After moving to 1-0, the Vikings will now take on Hermantown on Friday, September 7. The game is supposed to be a home contest for North Branch, but their field is still not ready, so the game will be played at Hinckley-Finlayson’s home turf.
Hermantown has some athletes this year and will feature a tough rushing attack. They also have a quarterback who can throw the ball downfield and has a confident arm. It should be a nice litmus test to see where the Vikings are at going forward after the victory over Princeton. “We’re excited about the challenge,” Voss said. “We’ll have to get off the ball fast and make the first move. With Hermantown, you need to beat them to the punch.”