Rangers hoping for a three-peat

A Mountain Iron-Buhl receiver catches a ball as part of a drill Tuesday. The Rangers began official practice on Monday following the season being moved back to the fall.

MOUNTAIN IRON — Dan Zubich and his Mountain Iron-Buhl Rangers are hoping to do something this season that hasn’t been done in at least 33 years.

That is repeat as Section 7 9-Man champions for the third straight year.

Zubich said his father — who was a coach in Babbitt in 1987 — achieved the feat back then, but it has been done since then, according to his research.

“Zero 3-peats in 33 years since then,’’ the Rangers coach said after practice Tuesday. “It’s been a long time.’’

MI-B will have to overcome the loss of standout running back/defensive end Dillon Drake (a Bemidji State recruit), Aidan Bissonette (wide receiver and cornerback) and Teddy Olivanti (offensive tackle and linebacker).

“We lost 3 good players. All three of them did a great job. The positive is we return six on both sides of the ball but we will definitely miss those guys.’’

After Drake, Bissonette and Olivanti led the Rangers to a 10-2 record one year ago and a berth in the State 9-Man semi final, those leading MI-B will have to step up.

“These guys have to step up because it was definitely Dillon’s team.’’

The coach said it will be quarterback Asher Zubich and running back Hunter Weigel’s team this time around.

“He squatted 630 pounds,’’ coach Zubich said of Weigel, who is moving from slot receiver to running back. “He’s ready to go.’’

Sophomore Asher Zubich can hold his own in the weight room, as well. He benched 295 pounds, which was the highest on the team and 10 more pounds than Drake benched last year.

The Rangers have some big shoes to fill, as well, but Dan Zubich said, “Our freshmen played a lot last year’’ and are now all bigger. “They’re not 150 pound freshmen anymore.’’

Sophomores Riley Busch (slot receiver), Zubich (QB), Nick Jesch (WR) and Sam Lokken (TE) all started in 2019. Zubich and Lokken started on both offense and defense.

Sophomore Mason Clines was hurt last season, but the coach expects him to start both ways in 2020.

Overall, MI-B has a lot of depth, which is the best it’s been in Zubich’s eight years at the helm. He has 24 players in grades 10-12 plus a couple freshmen that can also play. “I can throw three units out there on offense.’’

In addition to the X’s and O’s, Zubich and the Rangers are just happy to get the opportunity to play this fall after the Minnesota State High School League recently moved football and volleyball back to the fall season. Those sports had been moved to the spring due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m excited for them to get to play. It’s been a roller coaster,’’ Zubich said.

Zubich has some concerns about playing in freezing conditions come late November.

“It’s been 55 degrees at Thanksgiving, but the section final is Nov. 28. It could be very cold. That doesn’t sound like fun.’’

Looking back to the last two State Tournament runs, he said his team wasn’t able to practice outside at MI-B because it was so cold and there was so much snow.

The coach has heard noon games are being considered, along with possibly moving some to TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis because they have a heated field.

Mountain Iron-Buhl will open the season Friday, Oct. 9, at Lake of the Woods and recently added a game against Bertha-Hewitt from Section 4, which gives the Rangers a full complement of six games before the postseason.

Zubich looks at Bigfork, Silver Bay and Cherry as the top competitors in Section 7. Bigfork returns seven on both sides of the ball, Silver Bay returns six and “Cherry’s got quite a bit back too’’ after losing some really good seniors.

He puts his own team in that category too.

“We’re as fast as anybody in our section and return three of four linemen.

Zubich is hopeful that junior Ryan Drake is ready after having to deal with injuries and concussion issues.

“It would be like having them all back’’ on a “pretty solid line’’ if Drake returns.

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