Prep football: Titans top Two Harbors to close out season
GNK takes advantage of turnovers in Section 7AAA semifinal victory.
Play-by-play man Will Peterson with KTWH radio out of Two Harbors was talking with the studio before Friday’s Section 7AAA semifinals when he summed up the world of sports, maybe the world in general, in a single sentence.
“It’s been a weird year, and we’ll take the weird result,” Peterson said.
The latest weird result was Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin’s 34-13 victory over Two Harbors in the Section 7AAA semifinals at Terry Egerdahl Memorial Field in Proctor, closing out the season abbreviated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A pair of senior running backs led the way for the Titans as Ty Donahue was the workhorse, rushing 24 times for 159 yards, while Dacoda Thoennes carried 11 times for 61 yards and three touchdowns as GNK avenged a 26-20 double-overtime loss to the Agates Oct. 23 in Coleraine.
The rematch was moved up a day as teams scrambled to play games Friday before Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s four-week shutdown was set to take effect at 11:59 p.m. that day.
“I think we just had a better attitude coming into this game,” Donahue said. “We let that other one slip away. I don’t think we were into it mentally. We felt like this was coming the whole time.”
Donahue didn’t mind not scoring a TD, deferring the glory to Thoennes.
“Sometimes you don’t get the points, but that’s OK,” Donahue said. “Unselfish. It’s great to see other guys get the ‘tuddies.’ I’ll take it.”
In fairness to Two Harbors, this was a makeshift unit. That’s the way it’s been in the year of COVID-19 as it’s been a battle of attrition to get to the finish line, with teams patching together what they can despite quarantines and other teams shutting down.
The Agates played without their starting center and bad exchanges hurt them early, and starting quarterback Clark Nelson had just come off of quarantine. Earlier in the year, coach Tom Nelson was on quarantine even though he tested negative.
“It’s been crazy,” Nelson said.
Two Harbors (4-3) had four turnovers as the Titans (3-5) built a 34-0 edge through three quarters. While Two Harbors coughed it up early, GNK coughed it up late. By then it didn’t matter as they were mostly working backups in.
“No excuses. Our wheels came off today,” Nelson said. “Greenway was more physical than us. They gave us fits. They dominated the line. They dominated up front. Give them credit. They did what they needed to do and took care of their business.”
Donahue and Thoennes are three-sport athletes who are sometimes linemates in hockey. They’re holding out hope for the winter season.
The three TDs were a career-high for Thoennes.
“What a great way to end on that note,” he said. “It was really weird with everything going on this fall but we just tried to make the most of it. It was tough, but it was still a good way to go out. I’m just glad we at least got some playoffs, and to come out with a win. We came out here with a fire and put it to them. We started this year on the bottom and ended it on the top.”
Mark Gibeau, who co-coaches GNK with Bob Schwartz, said that between everything else this fall, the Titans had to replace a lot of their playmakers. It took time to develop the younger players, but Gibeau was starting to wonder if they would run out of season before it did.
“You kept telling them it would come, but you just hoped they would get a chance to see their hard work pay off, and we did,” Gibeau said. “You typically don’t get to end the season with a win. We’ll take small victories all the time.”
Especially this year.
There was talk that GNK, and whoever won the later semifinal pitting Aitkin and Virginia, might be named section co-champs.
Regardless, a fall season that almost wasn’t has come to an end.
“Thank goodness it wasn’t in the spring,” Nelson said. “I think it would have been a trainwreck in the spring. Like I told the kids, obviously we want to win, we wanted to win the darn game, but it didn’t go our way. It wasn’t a good day for us, but I’d take this over sitting at home on the couch watching TV. To be with these guys, doing this, it was wonderful.”
Two Harbors 0-0-0-13—13
GNK — Gaige Waldvogel 7 pass from Aidan Rajala (Ty Donahue pass from Rajala)
GNK — Dacoda Thoennes 3 run (run failed)
GNK — Thoennes 16 run (Thoennes run)
GNK — Thoennes 12 run (run failed)
GNK — Isaiah Austad 1 run (pass failed)
TH — Sebastian Bark 13 run (Caleb Waldron kick)
TH — Matson Granmo 11 run (kick failed)
Crosby-Ironton 30, Mesabi East 6
The Rangers knocked playmaking quarterback Hunter Hannuksela out of the game early and then intercepted backup Evan Skelton three times, including two they returned for touchdowns, en route to the Section 7AA championship at Terry Egerdahl Memorial Field in Proctor.
Crosby-Ironton (3-5), which only led 8-6 at the half, used a balanced offensive attack and the pick-6s to eventually pull away. Sophomore quarterback Ashton Hann finished 9-for-13 passing for 152 yards and a touchdown. Senior Kale Dugan, who returned from an ankle injury to rush for 100 yards Tuesday against International Falls, rushed 18 times for 98 yards Friday.
“Kale runs really hard, so it’s glad to have him back, and Ashton throws a good ball and complements those other guys well,” Rangers coach Bryan Syrstad said. “We like to mix it up, establish the run and then take advantage of a lot of seniors who can make plays for us.”
That included Dietrich Winegarner, who not only hauled in a 70-yard TD reception but also caught a pair of two-point conversions, including a one-hander.
Senior Gavin Skelton, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound bruiser who has committed to playing college football at Minnesota Duluth, was contained, running 29 times for 104 yards and a touchdown for Mesabi East (2-4).
“They were keying on No. 31 (Skelton),” Giants coach Steve Grams said. “He’s a helluva athlete, but it would be nice to have two. When you lose your starting quarterback early in the game, your entire game plan is thrown out, and you have to adapt so quick.”
With Hannuksela, a multisport standout, Mesabi East is optimistic it is only a right-knee sprain but it’s still early.
“I felt our backup quarterback made some great plays, made some great passes,” Grams said. “You know, we tried. When you get a lot of guys dinged up, you end up going to the well too many times. When we got down a little bit, we had to start doing things we’re not really comfortable with.”
Mesabi East 0-6-0-0—6
CI — Dietrich Winegarner 70 pass from Ashton Hann (Winegarner pass from Hann)
ME — Gavin Skelton 4 run (pass failed)
CI — Cameron Durant 31 interception return (Winegarner pass from Hann)
CI — Hann 8 run (run failed)
CI — Gabe Kramer 55 interception return (Connor Zender run)