A year ago, the Rush City football team beat Mesabi East by 42 points. The 2017 Giants put up a much stronger fight when they provided the opposition for Rush City on homecoming night Oct. 6. The result still fell into the win column for Rush City, but by a more competitive 24-14 margin.
“Watching film all week, we knew that Mesabi was much improved, and they played hard,” co-head coach Joe Lattimore said. “It was a hard-fought, physical game.”
An electrical mishap killed the power to the stadium at the start of the contest, forcing the teams to play in darker-than-normal conditions under only one bank of lights. The scoreboard and game clock also failed, forcing the announcer to give the down, distance and time before each play while a utility crew worked frantically outside the stadium.
In the darkened first quarter, each side scored a touchdown via the legs of their quarterback. Mesabi struck first through Tyler Baribeau before the Tigers answered with R.J. Galvez’s seven-yard scamper; the Giants converted their two-point play while the Tigers did not, creating an 8-6 scoreline that persisted for most of the half.
The Tigers made a defensive stand on their own five yard line early in the second quarter. With full light and power restored to the stadium during the possession changeover, the Tiger offense also came to life with a 19-play drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Galvez to Brandon Guptill and ate more than eight minutes. The Tigers failed to convert the two-point play again, but still enjoyed a 12-8 lead at halftime.
Apart from the final scoring pass — the Tigers’ only completion of the game — the other 80 yards of the marathon drive were picked up on the ground by Galvez, fullback Riley Sykes and wingback Tucker Leigland. Sykes would lead the Tiger attack with 111 yards on the night, while Leigland would pick up 60 and Galvez 44.
On just five carries, wingback Cody McFee gained 66 yards.
Lattimore credited the offensive line — center Beau Behrendt, guards Dalton Mielke and Hudsen Mell, and tackles Daniel Mielke and Carl Sybrant — for the success in the ground game.
“The offensive line had a great push,” Lattimore said. “All five of them across the board were fantastic.”
The Tigers hit the Mesabi defense hard again to start the third quarter. Starting from the 37 yard line, Sykes ran for three yards on each of three carries before rumbling for four on fourth-and-one.
In what would prove to be a theme of the second half, the Giants began to assist the Tigers through indiscipline. After forcing the Tigers into third-and-15, a Giant on the bench was penalized for interference, gifting the Tigers a first down. On a subsequent fourth-and-16, a Giant cornerback committed pass interefence on Anthony Hermanson to change an incompletion into a fourth-and-one opportunity, and then the Giants jumped offsides to give the Tigers a first down at the Mesabi 15.
Sykes carried the ball the rest of the way over four plays to claim a touchdown that put the Tigers up 18-8.
“Being able to take the lead going into the half was huge, and coming out of halftime, that first drive lasted eight-and-a-half minutes, which is exactly what we want to do,” Lattimore said. “That’s what we have to do to be successful: methodically work our way down the field and wait for our breaks.”
The Giants would get two big runs from sophomore runner Cole Meyer on the following drive, including a 32-yard scoring sprint to cut the deficit to 18-14.
The Tigers pushed the lead back to 10 midway through the fourth quarter, with Leigland claiming the touchdown on a one-yard run.
The Giants got in their own way again on the next drive; after Josh James picked up 53 yards in one go, Meyer ran a sweep for what would have been a 32-yard touchdown if not for a penalty for an illegal block. The Giants appeared to keep their hopes alive by converting on a fourth-and-four play shortly thereafter, but a holding penalty wiped it away, and McFee stuffed the Giants’ second attempt to force a turnover on downs.
Mitch Mell sealed the victory with a late interception. Galvez also had a pick earlier in the night.
The Tigers evened their record at 3-3 and will now play two games in quick succession. The Tigers will hit the road to Hinckley-Finlayson (4-2) this Friday before Deer River (2-4) comes to town on Wednesday, Oct. 18.
“We have two very tough opponents left, very defensive-minded teams,” Lattimore said.