MOUNTAIN IRON — When the Mountain Iron-Buhl football team played North Central for the first time this season, the Rangers gave up a season-high 30 points in a 54-30 win over the Stars.
Hoping to shore up the defense the second time around, the Rangers applied that defense pressure right from the beginning on Saturday, downing North Central 50-0 in a Section 7 9-Man semifinal game in Mountain Iron.
A one score game at halftime the first go around, MI-B managed to go up 22-0 at the break this time, all while playing through a few mistakes that they were ultimately able to recover from.
The Stars took the first possession of the game at their own 25 and could only muster up around 20 yards of offense before things stalled out. On fourth down, an attempted fake punt was botched by North Central, forcing them to attempt a real punt near the sideline. That punt was blocked by the Rangers, where they recovered the ball at the North Central 35.
A seven-yard run by quarterback Asher Zubich and a 17-yard run immediately after by Riley Busch set up MI-B’s first touchdown with Damian Tapio taking the handoff at the 11 and running in for a score, 6-0 with eight minutes still to play in the first quarter.
North Central’s next drive was their best chance of lighting up the scoreboard all game. Starting on their 39 after the kickoff from MI-B’s Jaeger Winkler, the Stars cut up for some yardage on two solid plays from Wyatt Hell. Marcus Johnson then took the ball on third and one and went for five yards for first down into Ranger territory.
Hell, Johnson and Anthony Boorman all found room to run for the Stars but the drive nearly stalled out when North Central quarterback Seth Donner took a sack that gave his squad fourth and 13. Donner got out of the jam, connecting with A.J. Knaeble through the air for 16 yards and a first down at the MI-B 23.
A couple untimely penalties as well as some big stops by the Ranger defense ended the drive however, with the Rangers turning the ball over on downs four plays later as the first quarter came to a close.
Starting their next drive on their own 26, the Rangers got big yardage immediately when Zubich passed for 15 yards to Tapio and then a play later, ran for 27 yards himself on the run-pass option. At the North Central 32, another big play from Zubich was all for naught when the quarterback lost control of the ball at the two-yard line with the Stars recovering to take over possession.
That would be the last big mistake the Rangers would have all day. Three plays later, another botched punt by the Stars gave MI-B the ball at the 25. Zubich held on to it himself on the first play from scrimmage and hauled it in for the score, 14-0 after the Tapio two-point conversion.
MI-B followed that up with one final sustained drive in the first half where they marched 74 yards in three minutes. The drive was capped off on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Zubich to Sam Lokken. Tapio took in the two-pointer and it was 22-0 at the break.
Despite the early miscues and some big plays by the Stars, Rangers head coach Dan Zubich said he liked what he saw from his team in the first half this time around.
“Early we were missing tackles and we had the one fumble near the goal line,” Zubich said. “We’ve had a number of fumbles right at the goal line this year that I hope don’t catch up with us. But the thing I liked is that they kept their heads. They didn’t start barking at each other. They just kept playing.”
With some solid blocking in front of him, Zubich often found himself with plenty of time to scramble on plays. Many times, he’d take the ball on his own for big yardage, ditching the potential pass play.
“Some of our plays have multiple, multiple options but that’s because Asher has been doing this for five years and he knows everything we want. Sometimes we run around a bit too much instead of throwing it right away but you can’t argue with the results.
Mountain Iron-Buhl left no doubt in anyone’s mind in the second half, going off for three more scores in the third quarter alone to effectively put the game away.
Their first drive of the second half started on their own 25. Zubich and Tapio provided plenty of problems for the Stars on the ground as they kept going for big yardage plays that eventually put them on the Stars 20. From there, Tapio took the handoff and found pay dirt, making it a 28-0 game.
After forcing another turnover on downs from the Stars, MI-B took over on their own 36. A big 37-yard completion to Lokken on the first play of the drive set the Rangers up nicely. A couple plays later and it was a 28-yard pass to Busch that got MI-B in the end zone once more, 36-0 after Tapio caught the two-point pass.
On the ensuing kickoff, Winkler’s kick went short and landed far away from any Stars return man. It took a lucky bounce towards the Rangers and MI-B found themselves in the right place, recovering the ball at the North Central 31. A few plays later and Busch was in the end zone again on a one-yard scoring run.
The exact same scenario nearly played out again, with the Rangers recovering the ball at almost the exact same spot on the following kickoff, but MI-B was forced to rekick after they were flagged for a penalty, saving North Central the extra embarrassment.
Up 44-0 after three quarters, the Rangers’ backups took over in the fourth where they added one more score. Quarterback MiCaden Clines hit Evan Anderson for the 15-yard touchdown pass to cap off one last scoring drive to make it 50-0.
Securing the win and a spot in the section championship, Zubich said after the game it was a solid way for his group of veterans to go out at MI-B field.
“These 10 seniors knew this was their last game playing on this field. They wanted to go out there, win this game and get out of here.”
Setting up a rematch with Cherry for the section title, Zubich says putting a section championship on the line between two fierce rivals is exactly what he wanted for his team.
“They’ll be well focused all week. They know it’s Cherry. When it’s your bitter rival, you don’t have to say a whole lot to the guys.”
The Section 7 9-Man championship between MI-B and Cherry is set for 6 p.m. on Friday at the Mesabi East Sports Complex.
NC 0 0 0 0 — 0
MIB 6 16 22 6 — 50
M: Damian Tapio 11 run (run failed)
M: Asher Zubich 25 run (Tapio run)
M: Sam Lokken 15 pass from Zubich (Tapio run)
M: Tapio 20 run (pass failed)
M: Riley Busch 28 pass from Zubich (Tapio pass from Zubich)
M: Busch 1 run (Zubich run)
M: Evan Anderson 15 pass from MiCaden Clines (kick failed)