September 8, 2023 at 2:06 p.m.
Turnovers doom North Branch in 42-28 loss to Pequot Lakes
North Branch kicked off their football season with a tough test against the Pequot Lakes Patriots on Thursday, August 31.
The Patriots marched down the field on their opening drive, using a couple big plays, including a big run to open the drive, a screen pass that went for 15 plus a 15 yard late hit penalty.
NB defensive lineman Joey Donahue made a nice tackle for loss on second and three, but on third and seven, Patriot quarterback Clay Erickson found running back JP Elsenpeter for a little 26 yard screen play. From there, it took two plays for the Pats to punch the first score of the season against NB, scored by Bryar Nordby.
The extra point was blocked and Pequot Lakes had a 6-0 lead.
On the Vikings ensuing possession, North Branch was stuffed for an official no gain on the first play, but the second one went a junst a bit longer when Dooley Beaver took a trademark North Branch misdirection handoff up the middle for a 64 yard touchdown scamper. The extra point was no good, and the game was tied up at 6-6.
However, Pequot Lakes would take over from there. They had a balanced offensive attack against the Vikings, which may have taken the home team by surprise. The Patriots graduated their prolific quarterback and top receiver from last year, and returned their three top rushers, which seemed to be a recipe for a run-heavy attack.
But gains of 25 and 37 through the air on the second drive for Pequot Lakes moved them down the field fast before a five yard touchdown run from Elsenpeter capped it off. The two point conversion attempt was good, and the Pats were up 14-6.
North Branch got the ball back and secured one first down, but then they lost yards on first and second down and couldn’t get back ahead of the chains on third and 13 and had to punt the ball away to PL. The Pats again led off the drive with a long pass, this time for 20 yards, which got them moving quickly. There was a point when the Vikings defense forced a fourth and three, but from their own 47 yard line, the Patriots rushed out of the shotgun formation and gained six yards. After a 15 yard pass and 12 yard rush, PL was right down to North Branch’s 20 again. One five yard penalty later, and Elsenpeter took a handoff untouched for 25 yards for a touchdown. The extra point made it 21-6 in favor of PL.
Things continued to unravel for the Vikings after that. They fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving a very short field to the Pequot Lakes offense, and they made good on the opportunity, with Erickson connecting with Nordby for a 27 yard touchdown to put the Pats up 27-6.
Desperate for any sort of momentum, the Vikings went for it on fourth and three from near midfield on the next drive, and they came up a yard short, giving PL another pretty short field. They cashed in, scoring eight plays later to put the score at 34-6 before halftime.
The Vikings received the opening kickoff in the second half, and they were hoping to strike on the drive and start to apply a bit of pressure on the Patriots, but it was not in the cards as North Branch had a fumbled exchange on the third play, leading to another turnover that Pequot Lakes took advantage of, and at 42-6, the rout was on.
The Vikings did score late in the third quarter and into the fourth, but it wasn’t enough to completely threaten PL. Beaver scored another touchdown, a 14 yarder, late in the third. The two pointer was good and the lead was 42-14 in favor of PL.
After the defense forced a stop against the Patriot starters on offense, NB quarterback Jacob Robillard started the next drive with a 28 yard completion to Nolan Volner. Then he ripped off a 23 yard rush before Volner finished the drive off with a score to trim the lead 42-21.
Pequot Lakes kept their starters in the game, hoping to score one more time to really seal the win, but the North Branch defense stiffened up, forcing an incompletion on third down, which was followed by a PL punt.
An 18 and 19 yard rush by Beaver was sandwiched around a pass interference penalty on Pequot Lakes and that quickly moved NB back into scoring position. Robillard finished the drive with an eight yard touchdown run just a few plays later. The extra point was good, trimming the lead to 42-28, but there just wasn’t enough time yet for the Vikings to finish a comeback. They would’ve needed to force a quick three and out from the Patriots, but their offense got three first downs before taking a couple of kneeldowns to end the game.
Turnovers were the big key for the Vikings. They didn’t force any and they coughed the ball up twice, giving Pequot Lakes a short field both times. The Patriot passing attack is probably the most potent one they’ll see all season, so they’ll have some time to shore up their passing defense after giving up 213 yards on just 12 completions.
The Vikings will try to rebound from their season opening loss when they travel to Rock Ridge on Friday, September 8. The Wolverines blasted Hibbing 38-0 in their opener, but the Bluejackets are 2-31 over the past four years, so they haven’t exactly been stout. North Branch has beaten RR by 18 points in each of the last two seasons, so it will be a good measuring stick of their season at this early junction.