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Prep football: MIB to face ‘calm and collected’ Wheaton/Herman-Norcross in state semifinal

Rangers’ quarterback Asher Zubich has more than 3,000 total yards this season and has accounted for 44 of his team’s 78 touchdowns this season.

high school boys playing football
Asher Zubich (2) of Mountain Iron-Buhl carries the ball against South Ridge on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, in Culver.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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MOUNTAIN IRON — If there is anything sure about Mountain Iron-Buhl this season, it’s that the Rangers can score.

MIB has topped 50 points in seven of 11 games this season and three times topped 70 points — including an 83-0 drubbing of Ely.

At the center of all those points is Rangers’ senior quarterback Asher Zubich. Zubich has passed for 1,735 yards — with a completion percentage better than 84% — and 26 touchdowns.

The Rangers’ senior has 20 passing touchdowns and 14 rushing scores for the fourth-ranked nine-man team in Minnesota.

Those are great numbers for any high school quarterback, but when you combine it with his 1,361 rushing yards and 18 scores on the ground, things get a little eye-popping. Throw in another 1,321 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns and the Rangers’ spread-option offense starts to resemble a real juggernaut.

“He’s got the accuracy, but also the power,” MIB coach Dan Zubich said. “Usually it’s one or the other, he’s got both and at the IX-Man level, you don’t see a ton of it. It’s hard to gameplan for, I would imagine.”

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high school boys playing football
Braylen Keith (1) catches the ball while scoring a touchdown against South Ridge on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, in Culver.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Zubich and the Rangers have boat-raced their way to an undefeated record with only two opponents — Cherry in the regular season and Kittson County Central in Minnesota IX-man quarterfinal Friday in Moorhead — have been within two scores.

The Rangers beat Cherry 34-24 in the regular season but topped the Tigers by 32 points in their rematch in the Section 7 IX-man championship. MIB led the Bearcats 42-14 before two late touchdowns closed the final margin to 42-28.

MIB (11-0) will face Wheaton/Herman-Norcross in the state semifinal at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“It’s pretty hard to prepare for what is probably the best quarterback in IX-man football,” Warriors coach James Paul said. “We have some pretty good depth athletically and our quarterback is pretty shifty and quick himself, so we use him on the scout team for a quarterback like (Zubich).”

In the Warriors, the Rangers will find a team that tries to run a similar spread offense, according to Paul, and quarterback Marshall Tolifson has thrown for 1,658 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2022.

Going against WHN (12-0) should be familiar territory for the Ranger defense, but the Warriors’ spread offense could cause some problems, coach Zubich said.

“We hope we can stop it, but it is athletes in space,” he said. “It’s easier to miss out there and they don’t ever play a tight end. They go full spread with four wide.”

high school boys playing football
Asher Zubich (2) of Mountain Iron-Buhl carries the ball against South RIdge on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, in Culver.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Tolifson isn’t the running threat that Zubich is, but he is one of four Warriors with at least 52 carries and 300 yards on the ground.

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WHN has a strong defensive unit that has plenty of athletes that are capable of throwing a wrench in MIB’s attack.

“We’ve gotten as far as we have this year because of our depth and our ability at all three levels,” Paul said. “We’re pretty good up front defensively. If I had to pick a crew that’s our best, it would probably be our linebacker crew, but we’re pretty dang good in the secondary as well. We have a lot of skilled athletes — that’s why we run the offense we run and those athletes translate over to defense pretty well, too.”

Paul said he expects a “dog fight” Thursday when the teams meet. Whether it’s a “track meet” or a low-scoring slugfest, the Warriors will be ready.

“Our guys are really calm and collected, adversity doesn’t get to them too much,” Paul said. “They turn the page over and get to the next play pretty well and in a game like this, they’re going to have to do that. There’s undoubtedly going to be some mistakes, we’re going to miss some tackles, they’re going to score some points. There’s going to be some adversity in this game, I’m sure, and so far, we’ve done a great job with it.”

Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Wheaton/Herman-Norcross

What: Minnesota IX-Man semifinal
When: 10:30 a.m. Thursday
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Records: MIB, 11-0; WHN, 12-0

More from Jamey Malcomb
Hermantown and Grand Rapids are the class of the area — again — and Duluth East hopes to claw its way back to the top of Section 7AA.

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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