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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Grizzlies fall hard to Mustangs

David Colburn
Posted 9/13/23

KELLIHER- The North Woods Grizzlies came out flat and fell behind early Friday against Kelliher-Northome, falling 28-0 on the road for their first loss of the season. North Woods received the opening …

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Grizzlies fall hard to Mustangs


KELLIHER- The North Woods Grizzlies came out flat and fell behind early Friday against Kelliher-Northome, falling 28-0 on the road for their first loss of the season.
North Woods received the opening kick and started at their own 27 but was unable to move the ball and faced a fourth-and-10. Lined up to punt, the snap sailed over the head of punter Rogelio Noyes, who ran back toward the goal line to recover it and attempted to lateral the ball to a teammate. The officials deemed the toss an illegal forward pass and gave K-H the ball at the one-yard-line.
When Head Coach Joel Anderson asked about the call, an official was heard telling him that the punter can’t pass the ball in that situation. That interpretation was at odds with history, where punters have often keyed trick plays by passing the ball for first downs. Anderson’s appeal fell on deaf ears, and the Mustangs quickly cashed in, scoring on a one-yard plunge to go up 6-0 with less than two minutes elapsed in the game. The conversion attempt was no good.
The Grizzlies found themselves in a hole again on the ensuing kickoff, which bounced past the kick returners and was covered by John Warren at the eight-yard-line. Four plays later Noyes lined up to punt again from the six and got off a kick that was fielded at the North Woods 35 and returned to just inside the five. The Mustangs had their second one-play drive and score of the night on a touchdown pass that put the Mustangs up 12-0 with 8:14 remaining in the first quarter.
North Woods took over at their own 35 when the Mustangs’ kickoff rolled out of bounds, and the Grizzlies offense put together their longest drive of the scoreless night. Kaden Gornick gave the Grizzlies a first down at the 46 with a strong third-and-seven run, and quarterback Trajen Barto reversed direction on a sweep and scampered for another first down at the Mustangs 40. Barto got the call again on third-and five, and a K-N facemask penalty gave North Woods another first down at the Mustang’s 21.
However, Barto was shaken up on the play and had to come out, leaving the Grizzlies offense to operate with Gornick and Nick Abramson in the backfield. Direct snaps to both running backs netted only three yards, and following a Grizzlies time out Gornick lofted a pass that was picked off by the Mustangs.
North Woods defensive back Mason Rutchasky returned the favor on the next K-N possession. Running stride for stride with a Mustang receiver on a deep post pattern, Rutchasky leapt high and won the fight for the ball, giving North Woods new life at their own 36.
The Grizzlies got another big defensive stop on the next K-N series when Gornick recovered a Mustang fumble at the North Woods 34.
The Grizzlies defense did a good job overall of containing the Mustangs, who put up 62 points in their season opener, from the second quarter onward, giving up only two touchdowns the rest of the game. K-N put together a 60-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, and gave up a 34-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
“We had a kind of a rough start there,” Anderson said. “We spotted them 12 in the very first part of the first quarter, but I thought we responded defensively and we came back and really played well, the rest of the game. Offensively we were able to move the ball at times, and then we kind of shot ourselves in the foot and went backwards. We did some good things, we saw some of our younger guys step up in places, so we go back to the drawing board,and we keep working every week to try to get better and better.”
But despite the lack of scoring on Friday, Anderson said he feels good about where his team is early in the season, given their youth.
“Young teams have a tendency after a big win and a great game to have a little lull and not be as mentally prepared for the next game,” he said. “We saw that here tonight, especially at the start. We had a couple of guys come off a little bit dinged up and we had to go with what we had available at times, and I thought the guys we had to move around did a great job.”
Gornick led the Grizzlies on offense with 69 yards on 19 carries. James Yernatich picked up some late game playing time in the backfield and finished as the Grizzlies’ second leading rusher with 32 yards in six carries. The Grizzlies misfired through the air, failing to complete a pass.
Defensively, Rutchasky collected six tackles and four assists to go along with his interception. Barto had six unassisted tackles, and Carson Johnson had four tackles and four assists.
The Grizzlies were scheduled to be on the road again Friday at Mt. Iron-Buhl. The Rangers have put up 133 points in their first two games, including a 67-0 win over common foe Lake of the Woods, who North Woods defeated 46-12 in week one. The Grizzlies’ next home game will be Sept. 22 against Littlefork-Big Falls.