ESKO—There was never any doubt that the Grizzlies had the offensive horsepower to get the job done in their Section 7 Nineman showdown with Cook County. The only question was whether the North …
ESKO—There was never any doubt that the Grizzlies had the offensive horsepower to get the job done in their Section 7 Nineman showdown with Cook County. The only question was whether the North Woods defense could stop the Vikings’ punishing running attack to give the Grizzlies multi-layered offense time to work its magic.
North Woods answered that question with a definitive “Yes!” as they held Cook County to just six points in a convincing 28-6 victory to claim the section title last Friday night. It was quite an achievement against a 9-1 Cook County offense that had averaged 43 points a game coming into the title tilt. It was the fewest points that Cook County had scored all season.
“Defense was absolutely the key there,” said Grizzlies Head Coach John Jirik. “We’ve spent so much time working on defense and it finally paid off in the last two games.”
Two of the key moments came early on, as Cook County drove inside the Grizzlies’ 10-yard line twice in a row, only to come away empty-handed. “Those were huge stands,” said Jirik.
And the North Woods offense was there to play, as usual, racking up a total of 521 yards. Senior fullback Garrett Abramson, who had missed half the season with injuries, led the way in rushing, with 134 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. Senior Brendan Parson was close behind with 123 yards, a touchdown, and a two-point conversion on 20 carries. Senior quarterback Tate Olson, whose throwing arm has proved to be a potent weapon all season, was in his usual form, completing nine of 19 passes for 183 yards. Tanner Barto was his favorite target again, as the junior wide receiver pulled in six passes for 145 yards and a conversion.
The Grizzlies’ bevy of seniors, plus Barto, proved key to each drive, including two long drives in the first half that left North Woods up 14-0.
Cook County tried to get back in the game early in the third quarter, when junior quarterback Josh Prom connected with fellow junior Jack Haussner on a 49-yard Hail Mary for six. North Woods answered later in the quarter, on a drive that started with good field position at their own 39-yard line. The drive looked fated to end in an interception, but the sure-handed Barto leaped over the backs of two Cook County pass defenders to take away an easy Cook County pick and come down with a completion.
Later, with Cook County moving the ball again in the air, junior Jake Hyppa chased down Prom for a momentum-withering sack, which proved to be another key play in the Grizzlies’ favor. “That kind of took the wind out of their sails,” said Jirik.
Three Cook County turnovers helped the North Woods cause. Parson and junior tight end Chase Kleppe both recorded interceptions, while junior Hayden Picek had a huge night defensively, with a fumble recovery, a sack, and nine tackles. Senior Matthew Schultz tallied ten tackles, while Jake Hyppa recorded eight along with his sack. Kleppe added eight tackles of his own, while Abramson added seven and Olson added five.
The Grizzlies now head to the first round of the state Nineman tournament, where they’ll take on 8-2 Nevis at the Bemidji State University stadium this Friday, Nov. 10. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
Jirik said the team spent the early part of the week inside, talking strategy and preparing mentally for the big game. They were set to work outside later in the week, to prepare for the wintery conditions.
For fans who can’t make the trip to Bemidji, a free live stream of the game is expected to be made available at http://mn.prepspotlight. tv/MSHSL/GameStream.