Mesabi East tops Carlton

The way that the Mesabi East football players, coaches and fans reacted, one would have thought the Giants won a section title Wednesday night in Aurora.

The way that the Mesabi East football players, coaches and fans reacted, one would have thought the Giants won a section title Wednesday night in Aurora.

"I had chills down the back of my neck when the horn sounded and we were still up 7-6," Mesabi East athletic director Jim James said about a one-point win over Carlton, the school's first since Oct. 3, 2003.

James had reason to be proud. He was head coach when the varsity program disbanded before the 2004 season due to a lack of players. But James and others, notably current head coach Steve Grams, kept the youth and junior varsity programs afloat in the hope that the school would resume playing in the future.

That paid off in Wednesday's regular-season finale. The win snapped a 10-game losing streak, which began before any current players were in high school.

"At 0-7, our guys could have given up for the year, but we sat down with them before the game and said, 'Our season is not over yet,'" Grams said.


Nate Holmstrom, one of four seniors on the team, scored the Giants' lone touchdown. Mesabi East held on as Carlton scored a late touchdown, missed the two-point conversion off a fake extra-point try and then missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds.

"It was very emotional; there were tears in all the coaches' eyes," said junior Alex Loe, who was an eighth-grader when the varsity disbanded. "We didn't care what our record was. All that mattered was getting that win."

Players like Holmstrom and Loe stuck with the Mesabi East program even though they would have been eligible to play as part of a cooperative with Eveleth-Gilbert.

"What a good feeling it was for them," James said. "In my opinion, it's going to give those kids a good start on next year."

That's if more students decide to take part. Only 25 players came out for the team this season, four of whom opted to attend driver's training instead of the last game.

"A lot of nine-man squads have more players than us," James said.

That's something the coaches have been struggling with for several years. Perhaps the victory will spark some undecided students to commit to the sport.

"We're hoping a little success will bring more people to our program," Grams said.


Loe's also hopeful that will be the case. Just as he stuck it out, he'd like fellow classmates to give it a try.

"A lot of my friends were thinking of joining," he said. "They said it was hard watching in the stands, that they wished they were on the field instead."

Mesabi East received a No. 8 seed in the Section 7AA playoffs and will play undefeated Moose Lake-Willow River in a quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday, but that's not something Grams was thinking about Thursday as he and his coaches watched film of the top-seeded Rebels.

"I told them, 'Let's not worry about Moose Lake; let's enjoy this one today,'" he said.

playoff pairings

Hermantown, Proctor, Cook County, Cromwell and Littlefork-Big Falls joined Moose Lake-Willow River as top seeds when section football pairings were released Thursday.

The Hawks earned the top spot -- and a bye -- in Section 7AAAA, earning enough points despite primarily playing Class AAA teams in the Sea-Range Conference.

The other five top seeds are all undefeated and ranked in the top 5 statewide: No. 2 Proctor opens at home against Eveleth-Gilbert in 7AAA; fifth-ranked Cook County hosts Nashwauk-Keewatin in Grand Marais; No. 2 Cromwell faces Isle at home; and Tower-Soudan travels to fourth-ranked Littlefork-Big Falls. All first-round games are 7 p.m. Tuesday.


* As expected, Hibbing and Esko received top seeds in their half of the Section 7AA volleyball bracket.

The Bluejackets, playing their first season in Class AA in a three-class system, are followed in their subsection by fellow newcomer No. 2 Hermantown, No. 3 Greenway and No. 4 Virginia. The Eskomos are joined by No. 2 Cloquet in a bid for the section final four.

Carlton, which beat out Esko for this season's Polar League title, is a subsection top seed in Section 7A. Hill City heads up a much-tougher other half of the section that includes No. 2 Deer River, No. 3 Chisholm and No. 4 Littlefork-Big Falls.

* Seedings for the two-class boys and girls Minnesota state soccer tournament will be done at 11 a.m. Sunday in St. Paul. Team representatives will rank other teams in their class one through seven with high and low scores tossed out. Teams with the lowest totals will be seeded No. 1, the next lowest No. 2 and so on.

prep stats needed

The News Tribune will publish final regular-season football and volleyball statistics Thursday. Please send regular-season stats to or fax (218) 723-5314 by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

RICK WEEGMAN covers prep sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or at

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