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Prep football: Asher Zubich leads MIB to championship game

The senior quarterback had three touchdown passes to advance to the Rangers’ first state title game since 1972.

Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Derek Dahl (20), Mason Clines (4) and Micaden Clines (6) tackle Wheaton-Herman-Norcross quarterback Holden Rinke (10)
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Derek Dahl (20), Mason Clines (4) and Micaden Clines (6) tackle Wheaton-Herman-Norcross quarterback Holden Rinke (10) in the fourth quarter of the state semifinal game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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MINNEAPOLIS — On the first play from scrimmage in the second half and Mountain Iron-Buhl trailing. quarterback Asher Zubich fumbled as he dropped back to pass deep in Wheaton/Herman-Norcross territory in the Minnesota IX-Man semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Warriors recovered and looked to go in for a touchdown. Instead of hanging his head on the sideline, Zubich came in to make a tackle for a loss, and then intercepted WHN backup quarterback Holden Rinke and returned it back to the Ranger 23.

The ball gets knocked loose from Mountain Iron-Buhl quarterback Asher Zubich (2) by Wheaton-Herman-Norcross’ Jack Seigel (41)
The ball gets knocked loose from Mountain Iron-Buhl quarterback Asher Zubich (2) by Wheaton-Herman-Norcross’ Jack Seigel (41) to start the third quarter of the state semifinal game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

MIB marched down the field and scored a go-ahead touchdown and went on to win 36-15 and advance to its first state championship game since 1972.

MIB coach Dan Zubich said he thought the fumble might have been a pass, and could have been incomplete.

“I thought we could get some Tom Brady treatment,” Coach Zubich said. “I thought he was throwing it, but they didn’t review it — they didn’t even discuss it.”

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For his part, Zubich wasn’t thinking about the interception. He was focused on what they had gone over in practice when the defense took the field.

Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Asher Zubich (2) tackles Wheaton-Herman-Norcross’ Dylan Bainbridge (16)
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Asher Zubich (2) tackles Wheaton-Herman-Norcross’ Dylan Bainbridge (16) in the third quarter of the state semifinal game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“At practice, we go over their formations,” Zubich said. “I recognized pass after the tackle for loss. They were close to the end zone and they were going to score in a close game. I just told myself to relax and I just knew that pass was coming, so I jumped it and I got lucky.”

Coach Zubich said he thought Zubich could return the ball 98 yards “to the house” until the quarterback ran out of bounds.

In addition to the defensive heroics, Zubich passed for three touchdowns and ran for another to lead the Rangers to their first appearance in the Prep Bowl in half a century. He finished with 141 yards passing and 99 yard rushing.

The sequence early in the third quarter was a big momentum shift, but the game changed in MIB’s favor when WHN’s Marshall Tolifson left the game late in the second quarter with an injury and did not return. Tolifson hit Andrew Walker-Hanneman for two first half touchdowns to help the Warriors to a 15-14 lead at halftime following a Clint Determan field goal to end the second quarter.

Mountain Iron-Buhl quarterback Asher Zubich (2) jumps as lofts a pass over the  Wheaton-Herman-Norcross defense
Mountain Iron-Buhl quarterback Asher Zubich (2) jumps as lofts a pass over the Wheaton-Herman-Norcross defense in the fourth quarter of the state semifinal game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“It turned in the second quarter when their quarterback got hurt,” Coach Zubich said. “He’s a hell of a player. … It was a totally different game, they didn’t score again. In IX-Man, when you’ve got to put a backup quarterback in, that’s tough to do. They’re a very good team that’s tough to stop. That made it a little bit easier for us.”

WHN coach James Paul said he thought Rinke, a sophomore, could continue to lead the team, but the loss of Tolifson’s experience did have an effect.

“We were limited to a little bit more of a quick game,” Paul said. “We had faith in Holden, we knew he could run the ball well. We needed that out of him and he’s got a good arm to try to get over the top — we tried it once and just missed — but it was a factor. Marshall left this game a 34-touchdown pass quarterback, anytime you lose that on offense, that’s a pretty big hit.”

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Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Sam Lokken (21) secures a pass for a touchdown in the fourth quarter
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Sam Lokken (21) secures a pass for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Rangers’ state semifinal game with Wheaton-Herman-Norcross at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Tolifson finished the game 7-for-19 for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Rinke had 68 yards passing in the second half, but didn’t find the end zone.

MIB (12-0) will face the winner of Fertile-Beltrami and Spring Grove in the IX-Man championship at 10 a.m. Dec. 3 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Braylen Keith (1) is all alone as he catches a first quarter pass on his way to the end zone
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Braylen Keith (1) is all alone as he catches a first-quarter pass on his way to the end zone during the Rangers’ state semifinal game with Wheaton-Herman-Norcross at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Wheaton/Norcross-Herman 6-9-0-0—15

Mountain Iron-Buhl 8-6-8-14—36

WHN — Andrew Walker-Hanneman 55 pass from Marshall Tolifson (run failed)

MIB — Braylen Keith 47 pass from Asher Zubich (Zubich run)

MIB — Zubich 1 run (run failed)

WHN — Walker-Hanneman 31 pass from Tolifson (run failed)

WHN — Clint Determan 34 kick

MIB — Damian Tapio 8 run (Evan Anderson pass from Zubich)

MIB — Sam Lokken 21 pass from Zubich (run failed)

MIB — Mason Clines 4 pass from Zubich (Tapio run)

Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Sam Lokken (21) leaps as he scores a third quarter touchdown
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Sam Lokken (21) leaps as he scores a third-quarter touchdown during the Rangers’ state semifinal game with Wheaton-Herman-Norcross at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
The Mountain Iron-Buhl football team celebrates its state semifinal victory over Wheaton-Herman-Norcross
The Mountain Iron-Buhl football team celebrates its state semifinal victory over Wheaton-Herman-Norcross on the field at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Riley Busch (11) wraps up Wheaton-Herman-Norcross’ Brody Nachbor (32)
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Riley Busch (11) wraps up Wheaton-Herman-Norcross’ Brody Nachbor (32) in the first quarter of the state semifinal game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Damian Tapio (21) dives for extra yardage as he is hit by Wheaton-Herman-Norcross’ Kevin Casper (4)
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Damian Tapio (21) dives for extra yardage as he is hit by Wheaton-Herman-Norcross’ Kevin Casper (4) in the second quarter of the state semifinal game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
More from Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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