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Section football preview: Cloquet ready for rematch at North Branch

The Lumberjacks will play the Vikings at 7 p.m. Friday for the Section 7AAAA championship.

Players in purple uniforms play football against players in white uniforms with gold helmets
Reese Sheldon (1) of Cloquet stiff-arms Zach Thorsten (21) of Hermantown while running with the ball at Bromberg Field on Sept. 30 in Cloquet. Sheldon said trust will be key in the section championship matchup against North Branch.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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CLOQUET — It wasn’t the fact that Cloquet won over Grand Rapids Saturday night, but it was the way the Lumberjacks did that left jaws on the floor.

Cloquet (7-3) played unquestionably its best game of the season and blew out the Thunderhawks 42-15 Saturday in Grand Rapids, avenging a 27-14 loss Sept. 16 and ending Grand Rapids’ season.

First-year Cloquet coach Jeff Ojanen said he wasn’t surprised that they won, but did admit that he didn’t expect the Lumberjacks to stretch the lead to 35 points. Cloquet led 42-7 until a Grand Rapids touchdown in the final minute got the lead back under 30.

“Offensively, we have found some things lately that have been clicking for us,” Ojanen said. “Having a one-two punch of (Kollin) Bonneville and Reese Sheldon — offensively, it’s tough to stop those guys. We established that we can run the ball early in the season and it’s starting to pay off with being able to take advantage of teams overloading one side versus the other.”

Cloquet’s Kollin Bonneville (9) rips off a huge gain in the second quarter
Cloquet’s Kollin Bonneville (9) rips off a huge gain in the second quarter of the Lumberjacks’ game with Duluth East on Sept. 23 in Duluth. Bonneville and the Lumberjacks will take on North Branch at 7 p.m. Friday in the Section 7AAAA championship game.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

With the win over Grand Rapids, the Lumberjacks will travel to North Branch for the Section 7AAAA championship at 7 p.m. Friday.

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The Vikings got their own measure of revenge Saturday when they beat Hermantown 27-20 in the other section semifinal. The Vikings jumped out to a 12-0 lead at halftime in their matchup Oct. 14, but Hermantown outscored North Branch 21-6 in the second half to take a 21-18 win and the second seed in the section playoffs.

Cloquet #22.jpg
Cloquet's Blair Chartier looks for a rushing lane during a Section 7AAAA football quarterfinal vs. Duluth Denfeld on Oct. 25 in Cloquet. The Lumberjacks will face North Branch in the Section 7AAAA championship game Friday.
Amy Arntson / File / Cloquet Pine Journal

North Branch (7-2) has amassed more than 2,100 yards rushing this season and has three different players with more than 400 yards on the ground including Loghan Croal, Samuel Robillard and Preston Peterson. All three scored against Hermantown, including a 67-yard scamper by Croal.

“We beat them at home the first time, great, that really doesn’t mean anything at all,” North Branch coach Justin Voss said. “Cloquet is a well-coached team that will have some different twists for us and some things we haven’t seen yet. Our job is to make sure we prepare this week and make sure our focus is there to get different looks at us offensively and certainly with our defense making sure we contain their top guys.”

Cloquet’s Reese Sheldon said the difference Saturday and early in the season was the “trust” that’s developed this season on the team.

“This team has all the potential in the world,” Sheldon said. “We need to do our jobs. Last week, we really dove in and trusted our offense, trusted our defense, did our jobs and did things right. We didn’t have to do too much, that’s the key to it.”

Cloquet vs. North Branch

What: Section 7AAAA championship game
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: North Branch High School
Records: Cloquet, 7-3; North Branch, 7-2
Radio: WKLK-AM 1230

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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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