9/7/2017 4:28:00 PM Air raid offense leads NB to 50-30 rout over Princeton
It’s been at least 15 years since North Branch football has scored 50 points in a game, and it’s been about the same amount of time since there’s been this much excitement around the program.
North Branch rode senior quarterback Aaron Robillard and senior wide receiver Darien Fair to a 50-30 drubbing of the Princeton Tigers in their season opener on Friday, September 1 at Princeton.
Outside of two interceptions that happened when North Branch had a comfortable lead, Robillard’s night was nearly flawless. He went 15-of-29 passing for 287 yard and two touchdowns, and he ran for 176 yards and four touchdowns as the suddenly high-octane North Branch offense marched up and down the field at will against the Princeton defense.
The game opened with a Princeton drive that slowly made it’s way into North Branch territory. The Vikings’ defense forced Princeton into multiple third downs, but they converted each time. As Princeton got down inside the 30 yard line, the North Branch defense rose to the occasion, forcing the Tigers into a turnover on downs.
The Vikings began their 2017 season on offense with what looked like a three-and-out. A costly drop on a perfectly thrown pass sent the punting unit on for a fourth and eight. But Head Coach Sam Ferraro gambled early, running a fake punt reverse and Nick Hunziker took the ball 11 yards to convert to a first down. The risk paid dividends right away as Robillard used a pump fake and a fallen cornerback to hit Fair in stride for a 49-yard touchdown pass. After a failed two point conversion, North Branch held a 6-0 lead, which was a welcome sight after not holding a lead until the sixth week of the season last year.
On Princeton’s second possession the energized Viking defense forced a quick three and out, putting North Branch’s offense back to work.
The offense utilized three and four wide receiver sets and ran numerous bubble screens and quick outs to get chunks of yardage. They moved down the field efficiently, capping their drive off with a six yard touchdown run by Robillard.
Princeton, who has beaten North Branch four straight times since the Vikings rejoined the Mississippi 8 Conference by a combined score of 128-29, wouldn’t go queitly. After a 15 yard run and a 15 yard facemask penalty tacked on, Jacob Chase dashed for a 36 yard touchdown to cut the lead to 14-6.
As the first quarter was winding down, North Branch’s offense looked like it might by stymied once more. They were facing a third and three from their own 38 yard line, but Robillard found a seam and bursted through for a 62-yard touchdown run, stretching North Branch’s lead to 20-6 after one quarter.
It wasn’t long before their offense was back out on the field, with a short field to boot. Princeton, sensing their defense was on the ropes, went for it on fourth down near midfield. North Branch’s Austin Stephens made a big tackle on Chase, keeping him to no gain on fourth and four and handing the ball back to NB’s offense.
It wasn’t long before the Vikes hit paydirt again. Following long runs from Thomas Wurdemann and Robillard, the quarterback called his own number again, going in for a 23 yard score and North Branch was up 28-8.
Princeton was called for a personal foul on the ensuing conversion, so they were stuck deep in their own territory to start their next drive, and it went predictably awry, with them having to punt the ball away.
North Branch again ripped off chunks of yardage at will. Robillard hit Fair for 21 yards, Hunziker for eight yards and again for 11. Wurdemann ran for 21 yards and on the key play of the drive, North Branch went for it on fourth and 1 from Princeton’s 32 and Robillard went for 13 yards and kept the drive churning. Two straight personal foul penalties against Princeton continued their unraveling, and on the second one, Wurdemann shrugged off a 15-yard facemasking penalty to go in for a 12 yard touchdown. The lead ballooned to 34-6 with just two minutes left in the half.
Princeton did manage to score with just 30 seconds left in the half, but it didn’t put much of a damper on North Branch’s wildly successful offensive output.
North Branch was to receive the second half kickoff, and Princeton, looking for a spark, attempted an onside kick, which North Branch easily recovered, putting their offensive to work on a short field.
They poured it on. On third down, just a few plays after the onside kick, Robillard hit Hunziker for a 41 yard touchdown pass. Hunziker made good on the two point conversion, also, giving the Vikings a 42-14 lead.
Princeton strung together a long drive to answer back, and capped it off with a Michael Schimming 10-yard touchdown run, trimming the lead to 42-22.
The Tigers got their big break to get back into the game on the next drive, but they shot themselves in the foot, and it cost them dearly. Robillard threw an interception to Josh Addy, who returned it all the way down to North Branch’s 15 yard line. If Princeton could punc it in, they were within two scores with plenty of time left in the third quarter.
After an incomplete pass and a one yard run, a Princeton player committed a personal foul after the whistle, sending the Tigers into a third and 24 from North Branch’s 29. After an incomplete pass from Schimming, Colton Bauer sacked the senior signal caller on fourth and 24, turning the ball over at midfield for the Vikings.
On the very next play, Robillard threw his second pick of the night, but the North Branch defense picked their quarterback up, picking of Schimming on the very next play, with Wurdemann doing the thievery.
This time, Robillard took care of the ball and it led to a 22 yard touchdown run by him and a two-point conversion catch by Conner Hartmann. The score put North Branch up 50-22 in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter became a bit of an exercise in futility between the two teams. North Branch was trying to work the clock as much as possible, so they got a bit conservative, and Princeton was in a predictable passing offense, so they only managed one score, but the quarter was mostly a stalemate as NB wrapped up the 50-30 win.
Robillard had the aforementioned 463 yards of total offense and six touchdowns, while Wurdemann had 65 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Fair had 147 receiving yard and a touchdown on four catches. Hunziker had eight catches for 100 yards and a score.
North Branch’s second game is against Hermantown, who were 34-0 winners over Moose Lake-Willow River in their season opener. The Rebels, however, are a Class AA opponent, so North Branch will represent a significant step up.