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Prep football: Mountain Iron-Buhl ready to ‘throw everything’ at Spring Grove

The Rangers are headed to the state championship game for the first time in 50 years.

Mountain Iron-Buhl quarterback Asher Zubich (2) tucks the ball as he scrambles away from the Wheaton-Herman-Norcross defense
Mountain Iron-Buhl quarterback Asher Zubich (2) tucks the ball as he scrambles away from the Wheaton-Herman-Norcross defense in the first quarter of the state semifinal game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday, Nov. 17.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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MOUNTAIN IRON — The last time Mountain Iron-Buhl found itself in the Prep Bowl, Richard Nixon had just won reelection and Metropolitan Stadium was the premier sports venue in the state.

In fact, MIB hadn’t even added “Buhl” to its name the last time the Rangers advanced to — and won — the state title.

That will all change Saturday when MIB takes the field against Spring Grove for the Minnesota IX-Man football championship at 10 a.m. Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Rangers feature one of the top IX-Man quarterbacks in the state in senior Asher Zubich. Zubich has amassed more than 3,500 yards of total offense this season, including 1,961 through the air with an 81.9% completion percentage.

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

Spring Grove head coach Kody Moore called Zubich a “stud,” but thinks his defense will be ready for the attack.

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“They’re a fun-and-gun type team, you can see that they do a lot of stuff you see on Saturdays,” Moore said following the Lions' win over Fertile-Beltrami, which eliminated MIB from the state quarterfinals in 2021. “It’ll be fun to have an opportunity to prepare for such a great opponent and we’ll definitely have our hands full with him, there’s no doubt about it. He’s one of the best in the state, obviously, so he’s going to be a handful, but our guys are going to do everything they can to prepare and hopefully limit him as much as we can.”

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

The Spring Grove defense was especially impressive in the semifinal matchup against Fertile-Beltrami. The Falcons had scored less than 40 points only twice all season and marched down the field for a score on their opening drive.

That would be the only score for Fertile-Beltrami, however, as the Lions clamped down and went on to win 27-6. Spring Grove has its own dual-threat quarterback in Elijah Solum. Solum threw for 116 yards and ran for 70, including three Lions touchdowns.

“He’s just a tremendous player throwing and running the ball,” Fertile-Beltrami coach Brian Nelson said following the game Nov. 17. “I thought we did, for the most part, a pretty good job of containing him, but there were a couple players where he just made something out of nothing.”

MIB coach Dan Zubich acknowledged that Solum is a great quarterback with some big targets at receiver, and the Spring Grove defense is one of the best in the state.

Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Damian Tapio (21) dives for extra yardage as he is tripped up by Wheaton-Herman-Norcross’ Andrew Walker-Hannemann (1)
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Damian Tapio (21) dives for extra yardage as he is tripped up by Wheaton-Herman-Norcross’ Andrew Walker-Hannemann (1) in the fourth quarter of the state semifinal game at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday, Nov. 17.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

“We’re going to throw everything we’ve got at them,” coach Zubich said. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to be easy sledding up the middle and they cover the outside well, too. But we have a variety of plays and a variety of different things we can do to take advantage of certain people, so we’ll go through all the reads and see what’s working.”

The Rangers will need to be sharp on defense, but they have been very good when pressed this year. In MIB’s semifinal win over Wheaton/Herman-Norcross, Zubich fumbled deep in Ranger territory. Zubich made a sack on the first play from scrimmage and then made an interception two plays later to turn the tables, with the Rangers going on to a 36-15 win.

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

MIB can certainly play defense — Zubich has six interceptions and the team has 14 — but it’s more about keeping opposing offenses on their toes with a team like Spring Grove.

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“We’ve got some ballhawks back there,” coach Zubich said. “But against a team that is so good, you’ve got to keep them guessing, so we’ll definitely be mixing things up.”

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, Nov. 17, 2022.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

The Rangers know they’ve already accomplished something special this season by advancing to the state championship, but one more win gives MIB only its second state football championship in school history.

“Our guys have seen some of the guys from that '72 team,” Coach Zubich said. “Those guys are treated like royalty, as they should be — they have our only state title. There’s a decent amount of them around or come back for a game during the season, so everybody knows about 72 — if anything, they probably didn’t think it was going to take 50 years to get back. But on the other side, Section 7 IX-Man hasn’t been to the state finals since 89, so it’s been a long time for that too.”

Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Spring Grove

What: Minnesota IX-Man football championship
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium
Records: Mountain Iron-Buhl 12-0; Spring Grove 13-0
TV: MeTV, channel 10-2

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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