Gobblers’ football

Aitkin’s Owen Miller runs the ball during this year’s game against Crosby-Ironton. Miller was a large part of the Aitkin offense – and on a team that went 6-1.

The 2020 Aitkin football team was, simply put, one of the best to ever to take to Veteran’s Field for the Gobblers.

As if watching Aitkin compile a 6-1 record wasn’t enough, when you look at the stats, the Gobblers did nothing to disprove that fact.

The Gobblers rushed for 1,944 yards in the seven games, while giving up just 969 yards to the opposition. That was 277 yards per game – twice as much as opposing teams’ 138 yards. They were a running team but could pass when they needed to, picking up 478 yards through the air, an average of over 68 yards per game.

All of the damage in the air was done by Caiden Kjelstrom, who threw for all the yards and for an average of more than 11 yards per completion.

He was accurate as well, hitting almost 70% of his passes, good for eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of 120.0.

Jake Ince was his favorite target, catching 11 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns, while Hunter Nissen had seven grabs for 93 yards and Joey Simonson had five catches and three touchdowns. Jaelend Williams had the other touchdown catch for Aitkin.

Four outstanding seniors carried the load for the Gobbler rushing attack, and it was most impressive. Owen Miller piled up 915 yards in the seven games – more than 130 yards per game – and scored 12 touchdowns. He averaged 8.71 yards per carry, an awesome statistic at any level.

Austin Price was next with 501 yards and seven touchdowns, while Hunter Nissen had 262 yards and four touchdowns. Kjelstrom had 111 yards, most when the Gobblers needed a big first down.

Coach Alan Hills said he is going to miss his seniors.

“These 11 seniors are really going to be missed, not only by our coaching staff, but the program as a whole,” Hills said. “They are a hard-working bunch of kids who all put the team ahead of individual success.”

The defense was equally impressive for Aitkin, giving up just 13.1 points per game. Nissen led in tackles with 63, while Price had 58 and Jack MacDonald had 54.

MacDonald had 16 solo stops, Price had 15 and Carson Kullhem had 13 to lead that department. Nissen had 52 assists, followed by Price with 43 and MacDonald had 38.

Simonson had five sacks and five tackles for loss to complete his defensive resume.

Williams and Price each covered a pair of opponent’s fumbles and of the Gobblers 10 interceptions Jeremiah Smythe, Miller and Ince each had two. The Gobblers scored 34 touchdowns on the season and committed only six turnovers, an impressive statistic.

With the best team in recent memory for the Gobblers, there will always be questions of just how far they could have gone in the playoffs. Aitkin made it to the section championship game, but was denied a shot at more because of the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down sports throughout the state.

“It crushes me to see them have another season cut short, but they’ve handled things like true champions every step of the way,” said Hills. “They will be forever remembered in our football program not because of a pandemic, but because they are one of the best teams the program has ever produced.

“I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to have coached each and every one of them,” he added.

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