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home : sports : sports April 29, 2016

9/26/2013 4:13:00 PM
Vikes secure first win of the year, a 26-14 triumph over Denfeld
Jack Tholen (81, middle) celebrates with his offensive lineman after rushing for a 57-yard touchdown.
Jack Tholen (81, middle) celebrates with his offensive lineman after rushing for a 57-yard touchdown.

After enduring a brutal stretch of games in the opening third of their schedule, the North Branch football team earned their first win of the year by beating the Duluth Denfeld Hunters 26-14. North Branch’s run game, which is what they’ve relied on all year, broke through in a big way. The Red Road Grading Machine, known as North Branch’s offensive line, cleared the path for 364 yards on the ground. The first score of the game came behind them. Jack Tholen, a 5’10”, 150 lb. speedster who has jumped between running back and wide receiver at times this year, took a handoff to the right and sped through the Hunter defense for a 57-yard touchdown run. It was long run that was refreshingly finished. Over the past two years, the Vikings have had an abnormal amount of long runs chased down inside the 10 yard line.

A Tony Denn two-point conversion made the game 8-0 and gave North Branch and early lead halfway through the first quarter. Denfeld, who was also 0-3 on the year and was scoring on average, eight points a game, put together their own drive to answer the Vikings. They capped off the drive with a three yard touchdown run by quarterback Greg Gustafson. The Hunters capped it off with a two-point conversion of their own, tying the game at 8-8. North Branch didn’t wast time in answering the Hunter score.

On their second play on the ensuing drive, Denn found room and darted towards the sideline, outracing the Denfeld defenders. Soon it became a snake of sorts, with Denn, the head in white, being chased by multiple maroon-clad defenders. Denn wouldn’t be caught, though, and he finished the 73-yard touchdown run, putting North Branch back on top. Trey Oday missed the follow up extra point, and the Vikings were up 14-8. After the North Branch defense stiffened up on the next drive, North Branch took back over and went right back to work. They marched down the field until they added their third touchdown of the game, a 19-yard run by Tholen, giving him his second score of the day and putting NB up 20-8 with just over five minutes left before halftime. Oday missed the extra point, leaving Denfeld within 12 points.

The Hunters wouldn’t go down quietly, however. With short time, they started moving down the field with a mix of running and passing. Mike Benjamin and Alex Larson were the primary beneficiaries of the passing attack, hauling in a combined six catches for 58 yards. Denfeld punctuated the drive with a five-yard touchdown run by Ben Halverson with under a minute left in the half. The third quarter turned into a stalemate between the two teams. North Branch was moving the ball effectively, but self-inflicted wounds in the form of turnovers and penalties kept costing them. Finally, early in the fourth quarter, the Vikings broke through for another score to put some distance between them and the Hunters.

Eli Chouinard, back from his hip injury that caused him to miss the Cambridge-Isanti game, scored from one yard out to put NB up 26-14. The Vikings would hold on to earn their first win of the year and move to 1-3 on the season. The loss dropped the Hunters to 0-4. On the night, the Vikings rushed for 364 yards. Denn accounted for 147 of those and a touchdown. Tholen had 137 and two touchdowns on 12 attempts and Eli Chouinard had 35 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Fullback Kodie Koolmo added 43 tough yards on 14 carries.

Next up for the Vikings is the Duluth East Greyhounds. North Branch hosts the other team from way up north on Friday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. East has struggled mightily this year, especially on defense. They have given up an average of nearly 57 points a game en route to an 0-4 record, including two teams eclipsing 64 points. The Hounds are only scoring nine points per game on offense, so it is a juicy match up for the Vikings when they could use one. The game is the culmination of homecoming festivities for the Vikings, so look for the seniors especially to come out like a house on fire.

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