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Thunder dominate Vermilion on the way to State

FDLTCC Thunder safety Rial Wells leaps high to intercept a Vermilion Community College pass during the first-round MCAC football playoff game Friday afternoon in Duluth. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

It was a rout - in every sense of the word.

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College celebrated its first-ever MCAC playoff game as division champions with an historic win over Vermilion last Friday, throttling their visitors 60-0 at Duluth's Public Schools Stadium. They set school records for points and victory margin, and earned a berth in the state semifinals in the process.

"The biggest thing for me was that we played hard and fast and didn't stop playing after we scored three quick touchdowns," Thunder Coach Keith Turner said.

It wasn't just three. It was a lot more.

The Thunder were so dominant, Turner was able to give extended playing time to all his running backs. Every back who touched the ball in the game had at least five carries.

Star running back Victor Griffin went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, gaining 107 yards - but he needed only six carries to do it, scoring two touchdowns in the process.

The Thunder rolled up 404 yards on the ground, including 85 from Carlton's Chaise Jokinen and a score, to go along with four receptions for 100 yards and another score.

"Chaise played the game of his life," Turner said. The Thunder outgained Vermilion 624-116 on the day.

As good as Griffin and Jokinen were, safety Rial Wells was even better.

Wells picked off four passes, running one back for a touchdown, and recovered a fumble as well. His nine interceptions now lead the conference.

"I've never seen a kid have five turnovers by himself," Turner said.

It didn't take long for the Thunder to roll against Vermilion, a team it beat by 25 points in the season's final regular season contest just the week before.

"Even when we subbed, the kids played hard," Turner said. "We told them that this was their chance, and they needed to show us that they deserve to play. From top to bottom, we just played lights out."

With Vermilion now securely in the Thunder's rearview mirror, thoughts now turn to the semifinals - and a rematch against perennial state power Rochester at 1 p.m. Saturday at Public Schools Stadium.

Rochester beat the Thunder 32-0 earlier in the season and crushed the state's onetime top-ranked team, Ridgewater, by 52-7 in their first playoff game.

"Ridgewater lost their starting quarterback in the first series of the game and Rochester forced nine turnovers after that," Turner said. "We know it's going to be a hard-fought battle, but if we don't turn the ball over and we play like we have for the last two weeks, we will win the ball game.

"I am optimistic," Turner added. "I feel really confident going into this game, especially how we've practiced the last two weeks. The players have turned the corner understanding how to prepare."

The first matchup between the teams was closer than the score, with Rochester scoring twice late in the game off Thunder turnovers which came after trying to force the ball into the end zone.

"I wanted them to score," Turner said. "That (final) score was on me. We have to keep our kids focused this time. We have to stay within what we do offensively, which is to run the ball and commit to it."

Turner said four backs - Griffin, 230-pound Jordan Myles from Floodwood, 200-pound Antonio Marshall and 220-pound Jermaine Jones - are expected to share the load against Rochester.

"We want teams to scheme about how to contend with this four-headed monster," he said.