FIELD TWP— Winless, but pesky, East Central gave North Woods fits for three quarters on Tuesday, but a pair of T.J. Chiabotti fourth-quarter touchdowns gave the Grizzlies the breathing room …
FIELD TWP— Winless, but pesky, East Central gave North Woods fits for three quarters on Tuesday, but a pair of T.J. Chiabotti fourth-quarter touchdowns gave the Grizzlies the breathing room they needed to advance in the sectional playoffs with a 30-8 win in Aurora.
About 40 well-bundled fans braved sub-freezing temperatures as the teams squared off on a Mesabi East field speckled with clumps of plowed snow.
Chiabotti was undeterred by the conditions as he swept around left end on the Grizzlies’ second play of the game and rambled 63 yards for a touchdown, shedding two Eagles tacklers in the final 10 yards. Zach Cheney received the two-point conversion pass from Ty Fabish to put North Woods up 8-0 barely two minutes into the game.
Moments later North Woods was in business again at the East Central 48 after recovering a fumble. But it was four-and-out for the Grizzlies, with Chiabotti coming up short on a fourth-and-13 run after a sack and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by a fellow Grizzly.
“We were our own worst enemy at times,” said North Woods Head Coach Joel Anderson.
While the offense continued to sputter well into the second quarter, the Grizzlies’ defense had little trouble containing the Eagles. With just over seven minutes left in the half, Chiabotti picked off a Brody Lundstrom pass and returned it about 60 yards for an apparent touchdown, but it was nullified by offsetting personal fouls. North Woods retained possession at the East Central 40.
Seven plays later Chiabotti was back in the end zone on a two-yard plunge up the middle, and Jared Chiabotti’s two-point conversion reception staked the Grizzlies to a 16-0 lead.
It took just 15 seconds for the Eagles to get right back into the thick of things.
Fielding a bouncing North Woods kickoff at his own 40-yard-line, Eagles receiver Avery Anderson raced across the field and sped down the sideline before cutting back to the middle of the field to trim North Woods’ lead to 16-8.
With both Chiabottis and Jake Panichi toting the ball, the Grizzlies opened the third quarter with a well-executed 12-play drive from their own 32 to the Eagles 18. But it was all for naught when East Central forced a fumble and recovered the ball.
The Eagles converted two first downs and were facing second-and-15 at their own 37 when Grizzlies defender Olin Nelson intercepted a pass and returned it to the Eagles’ 19. Moments later, T.J. Chiabotti scampered around left end for his third touchdown from seven yards out, opening up a 22-8 lead on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
Fabish put an end to the Eagles’ next drive with a jarring fourth-down hit on an East Central receiver to force an incompletion, handing the ball back to the Grizzlies’ offense at its own 29.
On fourth-and-three at the East Central 48, there wasn’t a person on either side of the field who didn’t know who was going to get the call. T.J. Chiabotti attacked the left side of the line, trampling over one defender and twisting away from others as he broke free to score the Grizzlies’ final touchdown, his fourth of the night, with 6:44 remaining. Jared Chiabotti hauled in his second two-point pass for the 30-8 final score.
“We had a two week break there without any games and you will lose some of that continuity you gained,” noted Anderson. “But I’m not going to complain with a defensive performance like that.”
North Woods’ win punched its ticket to a Section 7A semifinal game against Hinckley-Finlayson at 2 p.m. Saturday. However, Gov. Tim Walz was expected to call a halt to the playoffs on Wednesday in a press conference scheduled after the Timberjay’s press time. The status of the game will be updated online as details become available.