AITKIN — The Gobblers lived up to their No. 1 seeding Friday night with a dominating 56-6 victory over No. 4-seeded Virginia in the Section 7AAA semifinals in Aitkin.
The Blue Devils had no answer for Owen Miller and the Aitkin running game.
Miller scored four times and ran for about 250 yards as the Gobblers went up and down their frozen home field to pick up the big win, which moved them to 6-1 on the COVID-19-shortened season.
The Aitkin defense was equally tough as they held Virginia to a third quarter touchdown pass from Jack Toman to Tom Nemanich, who are both seniors.
In addition, the six points given up was seven better than Aitkin’s 14.3 points per game against in their first six games.
The Gobblers got the ball first and went 55 yards on the drive for a touchdown, which proved to be foreshadowing of what was to come. Miller cashed in with a 12-yard touchdown run that put Aitkin up 6-0 just 4:21 into the contest.
Virginia (now 4-4) was forced to punt on its first drive before a roughing the punter call against Aitkin. The Devils got a 14-yard pass to Cole Schaefer and a Toman run before an exchange of interceptions, including one by Gavin Dahl. After runs by Nick Peters and Ryan Scherf, Toman was stopped short on third down and short.
It didn’t take long for the Gobblers to get on the board again as Miller took the handoff two plays later and broke free for a 69-scoring scamper and a 14-0 Aitkin advantage.
Virginia continued to struggle getting its offense going and later gave the ball back to the Gobblers just 36 yards from the end zone. Aitkin’s Austin Price ultimately cashed in on a six-yard run to make it 20-0 with 8:58 left in the second.
Virginia was then forced to punt, which led to an Aitkin drive to the 15. However, Aitkin came up empty on a fourth and one as Ryan Manninen stopped the Gobbler runner for a 2-yard loss.
The Devils were stifled once again by the Aitkin defense, which seemed to inspire the Gobblers. The home team took over on the Virginia 39, and drove to the 11 before Hunter Nissen found pay dirt on an 11-yard run, which put Aitkin up 26-0 just before intermission.
Virginia was pumped up to start the third on a 13-yard Toman pass to Peters and three runs by Scherf. However, the drive again stalled out again.
Miller and Aitkin took over again and the Gobblers senior cashed in with a 25-yard touchdown run to make it 34-0 with 7:51 left in the third. The rush pushed Miller over 200 yards at that point in the contest.
Virginia came right back with a 42-yard pass from Toman to Landin McCarty, which put the ball at the Aitkin 11. One player later Toman hit Nemanich and Virginia was on the board at 34-6.
That was basically all the offense the Devils could muster as the Gobblers tacked on two more touchdowns to come away with the 56-6 victory.
The game was the final contest for both teams before Gov. Tim Walz's executive order went into effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday. The order includes a four-week high school sports pause through Dec. 18.
Virginia 0 0 6 0 — 6
Aitkin14 12 16 14 — 56
A: Owen Miller 12 run (Austin Price run)
A: Miller 69 run (pass fails)
A: Austin Price 6 run (pass fails)
A: Hunter Nissen 11 run (run fails)
A: Miller 25 run (Jalen Williams pass from Caiden Kjelstrom)
V: Tom Nemanich pass from Jack Toman (pass fails)
A: Jake Ince 8 run (Price run)
A: Miller 4 run (pass fails)
A: Price 1 run (Price run)
At Mountain Iron, the Rangers closed out the coronavirus-shortened 2020 volleyball season by picking up one last game with rival Cherry.
Mountain Iron-Buhl came out on the short end of a 3-1 (25-18, 22-25, 25-16, 25-21) loss to the Tigers, but head coach Megan Preiner was pleased her squad got in their sixth and final game of the year.
Going into the game, Preiner said, “We told them to just come out and have fun and cherish their last moment with the two seniors (Paris Pontinen and Sidney Mattila) they played with.’’
Freshman Jordan Zubich led the way for MI-B with seven kills and four ace blocks, while Pontinen and freshman Hali Savela each tallied six set assists.
In addition, freshman Zoe Bialczak dug eight volleyballs, while sophomore Sage Ganyo came up with six. Freshman Gabby Lira chipped in with two ace serves.
Cherry stats were not available as this edition went to press.
Despite the loss, Preiner said her squad kept up with Cherry but just couldn’t get over the hump and put the games away.
Asked about the crazy season that ended Friday night due to Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order, which paused high school sports for four weeks, the head coach said she and her girls “made the most of it.
“It was important for the girls to have a senior volleyball season. … We were happy we got to play as much as we did.’’
While only getting to play six matches due in part to COVID-19 issues, “it was great to be able to have a season when it was looking like we weren’t going to have a season,’’ she added.
North Woods 2
At Cook, the Grizzlies gave undefeated Ely about all they could handle Friday before falling just short, 3-2 (20-25, 26-24, 25-23, 16-25, 6-15).
The match ended the season for both teams just a few hours before Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order pausing high school sports for four weeks went into effect.
The impending pause definitely had an impact on the North Woods gymnasium.
“There was just a feeling of the room that everyone was excited to be there for one last game,’’ said North Woods head coach Kandi Olson. “The girls were really happy to have another home game.’’
North Woods had a solid effort across the board with Morgan Burnett piling up 31 set assists and nine digs. In the hitting department, Zoe Trip, Hannah Kinsey and Addy Hartway all took advantage of that as they each topped 10 kills. Trip and Kinsey each had 11, while Hartway added 10. Also chippin in was Skyler Yernatich with 10 digs and seven kills.
Ely closed out the season at 12-0 as McKenna Coughlin paced the Timberwolves with 22 kills, 19 digs, five ace serves and four blocks. Rachel Coughlin put down 12 kills, while also tallying 19 digs, four blocks and three ace serves.
Also getting in on the action was Madeline Kallberg, who compiled 39 set assists and eight digs; Kellen Thomas with nine kills, eight digs, four blocks and four ace serves; and Annika Mattson with 29 digs. In addition, Kate Coughlin chipped in with 14 digs and five kills; and Raven Sainio recorded six digs.
While North Woods got in only eight games in the shortened season, Olson said, “every time we were able to play multiple games in a row, we saw a lot of growth in the team.’’
After the match, the girls just wanted to savor everything they had accomplished in the last few weeks.
“Nobody wanted to leave. It was such a weird but cool feeling that they were all just longing to stay,’’ Olson added. “These girls were just excited to take it all in.’’