Both the Aitkin Gobblers and the Greenway-Nashwauk-Keewatin Titans put up big numbers in their season openers, and neither allowed a score.
The teams met at Coleraine last Friday and the Gobblers kept the Titans out of the end zone en route to a 28-0 victory.
“I was extremely happy with our fast start,” said coach Alan Hills. “We knew this game would be a test for our young kids up front and they performed well. The two keys to the game were the play of the offensive line and our ability to control the clock.”
On the first possession of the game, the Gobblers forced a turnover on downs on Aitkin’s 31-yard line. A 10-play drive, including Carter Dox’s 22-yard run and a 16-yard pass from Kyle Cluff to Jake Ince moved the ball to the two-yard line. On the next play, Owen Miller plunged over for the touchdown. Kade Hopperstad’s PAT gave Aitkin an 8-0 lead midway through the first period.
“Traditionally, we like to establish a run game between the tackles,” continued Hills. “We expected to use our speed to get to the edges, but hats off to our O-line; they opened some big holes between the tackles and protected Klye (Cluff) well.”
On the Titan’s next series, Ince picked off a pass, but the Gobblers were unable to take advantage of the turnover. Aitkin was forced to punt and Dox spiraled the pigskin to the two-yard line. A Titan intentional grounding penalty in the end zone resulted in a safety, giving Aitkin a 10-0 lead.
The Gobblers returned the free kick to midfield. Six plays later, a 23-yard halfback pass from Milller to Joe Cummings in the end zone put the Gobblers up 16-0 at halftime.
Manni Uketegbe returned the kickoff 83 yards for a 22-0 Aitkin lead 11 seconds into the third quarter. “Manni had a gaping hole in the middle of the field, and he just outran everybody,” added Hills.
The Gobblers final score came late in the third period on a five-play drive highlighted by Austin Price’s 38-yard scamper to the 12-yard line. Two plays later, Cluff connected with Jon Blanchette for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead.
Aitkin’s defense was tested late in the third quarter when the Titans had first-and-goal on the seven-yard line. After Jeremiah Smythe sacked the quarterback, three consecutive passes fell incomplete and the shutout remained intact.
“Our defense has more experience, and the line stayed in their gaps, allowing the linebackers to clean up the tackles. We were able to put a lot of pressure on their quarterbacks, flushing them out of the pocket and forcing them to run,” stated Hills.
The Gobblers play their first home game against Virginia on Friday at Veterans Field. “We need to remain humble and take care of business,” concluded Hills.
Aitkin 8 8 12 0 - 28
Greenway/N-K 0 0 0 0 - 0
Aitkin-Owen Miller 2 run (Kade Hopperstad run)
Aitkin-Safety (quarterback tackle in end zone)
Aitkin-Joe Cummings 23 yd pass from Owen Miller (PAT failed)
Aitkin-Manni Uketegbe 83 yd kickoff return (PAT failed)
Aitkin-Jon Blanchette 12 yd pass from Kyle Cluff (PAT failed)
Team and individual statistics:
Total yards: A-375, G-N-K-147
Passing: A-125, NG-N-K-60 yds.
Rushing: A-250 yds., G-N-K- 87 yds.
Passing: A-Kyle Cluff 7-10-102, Miller 1-1-23
A-Miller 96 yds., Austin Price 94 yds., Carter Dox 53 yds.
A-Miller 1-39 yds., Jake Ince 2-36 yds., Jon Blanchette 2-27 yds., Joe Cummings 1-13 yds.
A Kade Hopperstad 9, Jeremiah Smythe 6, Jackson MacDonald 6, Gabe Long 5
Defensive coordinator Sean Smith comments:
“It wasn’t a pretty effort, but we got the job done. Our defensive secondary played well. We had two interceptions, one from Jake Ince and another from Owen Miller. We bent but didn’t break with a couple of big stands in the red zone. At one point, they had the ball at our two-yard line; and after a sack by Jerry Smythe and a good defensive breakup by Caiden Kjelstrom, we got out with another shutout. Joe Cummings also had a huge pass breakup in the end zone. We forced a safety in the second quarter. Our defense has allowed zero points and has scored 14 points in two games. We’re very proud of that. Greenway-Nashwauk-Keewatin had some good athletes and were very tough. There was lots of hitting all night.”