FOOTBALL: Mustangs looking for section title
KELLIHER — In the world of Minnesota 9-Man football, the northern third of the state owns overall bragging rights.
Entering the section semifinals the survivors in Section 7 and Section 8 all were unbeaten. One of the mighty suffered its first loss and saw its campaign come to an end Thursday, when Kittson County Central fought off Win-E-Mac 28-21 in the Section 8 tile game at the Fargodome.
Another northern Minnesota team will suffer a similar fate today at Esko in the Section 7 title game.
Kelliher-Northome (10-0), the section’s No. 1 seed, will square off against Ely (10-0), the No. 2 seed, at 4:45 p.m. That winner will advance to the state tournament quarterfinals 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at Public School Stadium in Duluth against the champion of Section 5 — either Floodwood or South Ridge.
Today’s game is a rematch of the 2012 section semifinal which saw Ely down the Mustangs 26-6 in Ely.
“It was a one-score game late in the fourth quarter and we had some kids beat up after beating Northwoods the week before,” said Kelliher-Northome coach Derrick Gross. “But it was a great game and I expect another great game Friday.”
Kelliher-Northome advanced to today’s title contest by beating Northeast Range 32-0 and Chisholm 20-8 in the section playoffs.
Ely’s road to Esko included a 43-0 pasting of Lake of the Woods and last week’s 43-8 win over Bigfork.
K-N was awarded the top seed in the section because of a slightly higher QRF than Ely’s. The Mustangs have maintained that edge and currently are tied for third in the state’s Class 9-Man QRF ratings at 35.7. Ely is seventh at 34.5.
Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley owns the top QRF at 39.5 while Win-E-Mac is second at 38.3 and Kittson County Central shares third with K-N at 35.7.
“Ely absolutely deserves to be 10-0,” Gross said. “Ely has many quality kids back from last year and, if you believe the clippings, Ely may also be considered the favorite over us. They beat us last year, are still unbeaten this year and some feel may have played a tougher schedule than we have.
“But we have played some very good teams, too.”
Among them is Chisholm, the team K-N downed 20-8 in last week’s section semifinals.
The Bluestreaks entered the game 6-3 and took an 8-0 lead with a first-quarter touchdown.
“It took us a couple of series to make the necessary defensive adjustments to their blitz but once we made the changes we did okay offensively,” Gross said.
The main counter weapon to Chisholm’s blitz was Mark Geerdes as the senior ran 34 times for 222 yards. He also scored two of Kelliher-Northome’s touchdowns.
The Bluestreaks opened the scoring with a 17-yard TD pass with 6:14 to play in the first period. K-N answered two minutes later as Geerdes scampered for 37 yards and a touchdown.
Both teams were successful with the 2-point conversion attempts and the score was 8-8 after 12 minutes.
It quickly changed in the second quarter, however, as the home team capped a march with Eli Rahier’s 2-yard TD run on the first play of the stanza.
The 14-8 score stood until the Mustangs surprised Chisholm on the final play of the half.
“With 20 seconds remaining in the half we got the ball deep in our end and a pass gave us a first down at the 30 with seven seconds left,” Gross said. “I think Chisholm thought we would just down the ball but we called a time out to look at the options.”
Among those choices was giving the ball to Geerdes on a sweep.
“That’s what we decided to run,” the coach said. “There was great blocking on the play and at the end of the run Mark just ran over the last three defenders. There was no way he was not going to score.”
A similar focus probably will be required tonight.
“There will be pressure on us be we have a group of leaders showing the way,” Gross said. “We are battle tested. We have team speed and we are playing on turf. The game should be a close, hard-hitting affair and if it is, we know what it takes to win those games. We’ve been there before.”