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Repeat after ‘D’

Ely’s relentless defense produces shutout, return trip to state

Patrick Slack
Posted 11/9/16

ESKO - The night began with some painful deja vu.

It ended with a familiar scene as well, but one much more satisfying to Ely.

For the fourth time in five seasons, the Wolves are heading to …

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Repeat after ‘D’

Ely’s relentless defense produces shutout, return trip to state


ESKO - The night began with some painful deja vu.

It ended with a familiar scene as well, but one much more satisfying to Ely.

For the fourth time in five seasons, the Wolves are heading to state, riding a dominant defense to a 23-0 shutout win over North Woods in Friday’s Section 7-Nine Man championship in Esko.

Ely opened the game with the ball and steadily marched into the red zone via a pounding rushing attack.

But as they did twice in the regular season meeting between the two teams, won by Ely 20-12, the Grizzlies thwarted a drive with a turnover in the end zone.

North Woods junior Brendan Parson came up with the interception to keep the contest scoreless, but after a quick three-and-out, the Grizzlies had to line up to punt.

Sensing an opportunity after the first showdown, Ely brought heavy pressure. 

And in the blink of an eye, the game was turned on its head.

“We thought we could block it and we went for it,” Ely head coach Brian Lamppa said. “We thought we could block one and we worked on it during practice.” 

Senior Braxton Casey deflected the punt back toward the North Woods goal line, then won a race to the ball and secured it for a touchdown.

“It was a pretty big play,” Casey said. “It kind of fired up the team.”

Junior Matt Gerzin took a sweep left in for the ensuing two-point conversion to give Ely an 8-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

The Wolves threatened to score twice in the early part of the second quarter, but could not manage to pull away.

A trip deep into the red zone ended on a fourth-down pass breakup, and, as happened twice in the initial clash, Ely had a touchdown negated by a penalty.

While Ely felt in control, the game was still very much up for grabs, with North Woods set to get the ball to start the second half.

But with less than two minutes left in the second quarter and a pass play breaking down, Ely junior quarterback Carter Gaulke scrambled to his left, broke a tackle along the sideline and sprinted to a 32-yard touchdown run. Gaulke followed with a two-point conversion pass to senior running back Josh Heiman to extend the Wolves’ lead to 16-0 and deliver a serious jolt heading into the break.

“That was huge before the half,” Lamppa said. “It really gave us momentum. We knew we were playing a good football team and they were maybe a play or two from tying the game.”

North Woods would find a little more traction on offense in the second half.

The Grizzlies moved across midfield twice in the third quarter, then had a fourth-and-15 opportunity from the Ely 32 early in the fourth.

On the play, junior quarterback Tate Olson found sophomore wide receiver Tanner Barto on a short pass, but a swarming defense made an immediate tackle and stymied any attempts at a lateral, leading to a turnover on downs.

The teams would exchange punts; then, after getting the bulk of the carries throughout the night, Heiman would be able to break free on a title-sealing 48-yard touchdown run with 4:46 remaining.

“He’s a threat to break one at any time and I was really happy for him that he did bust that after all the carries,” Lamppa said.

Junior kicker Felipe Reis would tack on the extra point to cap the scoring, while senior Evan Omerza intercepted a pass on North Woods’ final drive to seal the defense’s shutout.

“All in all we played excellent defense throughout the whole game,” Lamppa said. “(Assistant coach) Cory Lassi does a great job with the defense. He really works hard designing how they’re going to line up. The credit has to go to him.”

Adam Porthan and Augie Richter each recorded 12 tackles and Heiman also intercepted a pass.

Ely’s defensive line was relentless throughout the night, granting the Grizzlies’ plays little time to develop.

“The front four put pressure on the quarterback and then the wall contained the run game,” Casey said.

Offensively, the Wolves churned out 298 rushing yards, led by Heiman with 161.

North Woods’ offense was led by Olson with 87 passing yards, 34 to Isaiah Squires and 28 to Cade Goggleye.

Chase Kleppe made 11 solo tackles and assisted on seven.

The Wolves will now have yet another opportunity to take part in the state tournament, a feeling that is far from getting old.

“The goal at the beginning of the year was to get to the section championship and defend that, and we were able to do that,” Lamppa said. “It’s still special because it’s always a different group of kids. Some kids maybe didn’t get to participate or play as much before. Every one is special.”

“It feels really great,” Casey said. “It’s a great honor to be able to play at state.”

North Woods stuck in the game for four quarters, but could never get completely back on track after Ely’s quick special teams score.

“Very tough,” North Woods head coach John Jirik said. “It not only changed the momentum, we were without George (Bibeau) for awhile and when he came back out Mike Buchanan was out for the rest of the game. We played a bit better in the second half, but Ely’s ball control and tough defense wore us out.

“I think both teams stepped up their defenses. Ely’s was just better.”

North Woods concluded the season with an 8-2 record, with seniors on this year’s roster including Dan Holman, Bibeau, Buchanan and Jaylin Crain.

While not the outcome North Woods hoped for going in, it remained a very strong season for a young group of players.

“We played very well throughout the season,” Jirik said. “Although we lost two times to Ely, we were able to challenge a state-level team. This season went beyond expectations. 

“The experience should help quite a bit. We will start out ahead in our knowledge of the offense, special teams and defense. The challenge will be filling the shoes of our seniors who all had key roles this year.  Our schedule looks to be quite a bit tougher and that should help us come playoff time. Although it was a tough loss, Ely was the better team and we wish them the best of luck in the state playoffs.”

Ely (10-0) advances to take on Section 5 champion Cromwell-Wright (11-0) in tonight’s state quarterfinals at Duluth Public School Stadium at 7 p.m.


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