Near shutout at NB homecoming

Viking football breezes past Greyhounds

North Branch fans cheer during the third quarter following junior Eli Choinard’s second touchdown of three on the game. Senior Brandon Thauwald blocks while junior Trey Oday kicks an extra point off the hold by senior Tony Denn. 
Photos by Kat Ladwig Junior Pierce McKie and sophomore Hunter Johnson take down a Greyhound running back during Friday’s home game.
Senior Brandon Thauwald blocks while junior Trey Oday kicks an extra point off the hold by senior Tony Denn. Photos by Kat Ladwig

In front of a packed football stadium, the Vikings stomped Duluth East, 31-6, during the North Branch homecoming football game Sept. 27.

Sophomore Cole Pearson set the tone for the evening by recovering a forced fumble near midfield during the opening drive by Duluth East, putting North Branch in position to get its first score of many on the night.

Head coach Nick Nitti said the second win of the season couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It was a nice win for the kids and for our program with all of the homecoming festivities taking place,” Nitti said. “(The coaching staff) was a little concerned going into this week with the possibility of some distractions, but we told them to focus on doing their job. That job was winning the big game on Friday night, and we did that.”

The Vikings put up the first score halfway through the first quarter when senior quarterback Tony Denn pushed his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run for an early 6-0 lead.

North Branch only picked up speed from there.

Sophomore Eli Choinard ran 5 yards for the squad’s second touchdown a quarter later, then the Vikings marked another three points on the board after junior Trey Oday kicked a 29-yard field goal through the uprights three minutes later. Oday also kicked in the extra point following Choinard’s score.

Choinard and Oday took charge of the scoring for the rest of the game.

Following the 17-0 lead at half time, North Branch extended its lead to 24-0 when Choinard returned a 52-yard kick for a 92-yard run and touchdown, followed by another Oday extra point. The duo combined for the final seven points just minutes into the fourth quarter off another rushing touchdown by Choinard.

It looked like a shutout for the North Branch defense until Duluth East scored with eight seconds remaining to put six points on the board.

Choinard led his team in rushing with 111 yards on 10 carries for three touchdowns, followed by junior Kodie Koolmo with 70 yards on 11 carries and senior Tony Denn with 50 yards on eight carries and one touchdown. Six Vikings earned rushing yardage for the host team.

On defense, North Branch’s game plan included stopping Duluth East senior tail back Brian Lansing, who racks up most of the rushing yards for the Greyhounds. Lansing still put up impressive numbers with 134 yards on 24 carries, but the Vikings kept him from crossing the goal line.

“Their tail back (Lansing) is a big part of their offense, so we knew we needed to shut him down defensively and offensively, just see what their defense gave us,” Nitti said.

The North Branch defense also forced four Greyhound turnovers, while giving up none.

The Vikings are now 2-3 and host Chisago Lakes at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4.

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