FIELD TWP- Playing up a class against 7AA Mesabi East was no worry at all for the North Woods football team last week, as the Grizzlies notched their fourth consecutive win with a 44-6 home …
FIELD TWP- Playing up a class against 7AA Mesabi East was no worry at all for the North Woods football team last week, as the Grizzlies notched their fourth consecutive win with a 44-6 home victory.
That streak moved to five on Tuesday with an easy 52-7 road triumph over winless East Central to wrap up a 6-2 regular season.
The Grizzlies have turned into a point-scoring juggernaut in the past four games, tallying 198 points in contests where the reserves have gotten extensive fourth-quarter playing time.
There’s no arguing that senior running back T.J. Chiabotti is having a season for the ages. With a 62-yard scoring jaunt against East Central, he became only the 19th player in Minnesota prep football history to rush for 5,000 career yards. His 320 yards and three touchdowns against Mesabi East vaulted Chiabotti to the top of the chart of the state’s top ground gainers, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s MN Football Hub, with 1,659 rushing yards. That’s 53 more than second-place Academy of Holy Angels back Emmett Johnson, and Chiabotti got there with 49 fewer carries than Johnson, averaging 10.8 yards a carry. Toss in his pass catching, and Chiabotti is over 1,800 all-purpose yards for seven games with 24 touchdowns and 158 total points.
But Chiabotti is the first to acknowledge that he wouldn’t be having such a phenomenal season if not for a group of teammates who play under the radar, a group Chiabotti praised on his Twitter account after the Mesabi East game.
“Our linemen are playing lights out!” Chiabotti wrote. “TEAM!”
The Grizzlies’ offensive line was a unit in flux in the early part of the season, with some players getting used to new positions while others missed playing time due to injuries or illness. But in the latter part of the season, the line has coalesced around a core group of starters.
Grizzlies Head Coach Joel Anderson calls senior Ethan Byrum the anchor of the offensive line, not only for his talent but his leadership.
“He gets it, he’s been doing it a long time,” Anderson said. “He’s helping direct traffic out there.”
Carter Holman transitioned from splitting carries in the backfield to the line, and Anderson talked about the senior guard’s upsides.
“He’s filling some big roles for us,” he said. “He’s big, he’s a strong kid, and he’s very fast and physical.”
At 6’6” and 226 pounds, junior Anevay Goodsky-Spears is an imposing figure for any defender unlucky enough to line up across from him.
“If you were to draw up a lineman that coaches at the next level want to see, that’s him,” Anderson said.
Frehsman Nick Abramson is another runner who nailed down a starting role as a lineman, and while Anderson said he’ll probably return to the backfield in a year or two, Abramson’s performance has been key to the unit’s success.
Junior Kohen Briggs holds down the middle of the line at center.
“He’s been working at getting quicker feet after snapping the ball,” Anderson said. “This year we’ve had very good center-quarterback exchanges, even last Thursday (against Mesabi East) in conditions that were about as unfavorable as you could get.”
At 6’1” and 223 pounds, junior tight end Olin Nelson has the size, speed, and hands Anderson needed to round out the Grizzlies’ front six.
“He’s another one of those kids that at a younger level was a back,” Anderson said. “In his first couple of years of varsity he played receiver. These are all the kind of guys that can collapse the side of a defensive line by themselves, and you put them together and move them around and it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
On the Grizzlies’ first offensive play from scrimmage against the Giants, the line opened a big hole for Chiabotti, who then cut to the sideline and sprinted 88 yards for a touchdown, setting in motion a dominating performance against their 7AA opponent.
Chiabotti followed that up with a 33-yard scoring run, and the Grizzlies capitalized on a Jake Panichi interception with a 52-yard scoring drive capped by a one-yard yard from Panichi. With conversion passes from Ty Fabish to Jared Chiabotti and Nelson, the Grizzlies had a comfortable 22-0 lead with 4:38 left in the first half.
After Mesabi East returned the ensuing kickoff for its only score of the evening, North Woods answered with another T.J. Chiabotti touchdown, a 14-yard scamper. Getting the ball back again at their own 29-yard line with only two minutes left before the half, the Grizzlies quickly moved downfield. Wideout Eric Aune hauled in a leaping 21-yard sideline reception to set the Grizzlies up at the Giants’ 32. On first down at the 20, Fabish lobbed a pass that Jared Chiabotti scaled the ladder to catch over a Giants defender at the five before whirling and diving into the end zone for the score. T.J. Chiabotti’s conversion put the Grizzlies up 36-6 at the half.
North Woods scored its final touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, an 80-yard gem topped off by another Fabish touchdown pass, this one an 18-yarder to Aune.
“They made us have to adjust in what we were doing both offensively and defensively, so there were a lot of positives that came out of that game,” Anderson said. “I think it was one of our more complete games of the year.”
Tuesday’s contest against East Central was one in which Anderson challenged the Grizzlies to dictate their own level of play. The Eagles were winless in six attempts, losing by an average score of 54-7, and there was little doubt going in that North Woods would walk away with a win.
Dictate they did, as North Woods was up 44-0 at the half before swapping second-half touchdowns in the 52-7 drubbing.
The Grizzlies added a new wrinkle to the offense on their first score, a 65-yard pitch-and-pass combo from Jared Chiabotti to Aune on the third play of their first possession. Aune was also on the receiving end of a 23-yard touchdown pass from Fabish.
It was a breakout night for quarterback Fabish, as four of his six completions went for touchdowns, including 65 and 37-yarders to Jared Chiabotti and a five-yarder to Olin Nelson.
T.J. Chiabotti only touched the ball 11 times but racked up 159 yards rushing with two touchdowns and two conversions.
“We threw the ball a little bit this game,” Anderson said. “We had a nice mix of pass and run.”
Section 7A playoff matchups weren’t available by presstime, but at 6-2 the Grizzlies are a lock for a first-round home game at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26. If the Grizzlies make it through the first two rounds and seeds hold, North Woods would be looking at a rematch against undefeated Deer River in the sectional final on Nov. 5 in Proctor.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here