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Fond du Lac Thunder nearly pulls out upset

Last year when the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College Thunder football team took on Rochester they found out just how good the conference is. The Yellowjackets went on to win the national championship, while the Thunder struggled through th...

Last year when the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College Thunder football team took on Rochester they found out just how good the conference is. The Yellowjackets went on to win the national championship, while the Thunder struggled through their first season.

On Saturday the Yellowjackets returned to Cloquet, and while the Thunder still lost, it was a close contest that saw Rochester hang on for a 30-23 win.

"We had some consistent play from our offense, but now we need to make more plays by capitalizing on the take-aways created by our defense," said Thunder coach Tony Deleon following the game. "Defensively our effort has been there all season long and it was no different on Saturday."

The Thunder took the opening drive from their own 34-yard line and 12 plays later scored on a 13-yard field goal by Vladimir Brik to take a 3-0 lead.

Rochester took even less time to get the lead back when they went 65 yards on just five plays and scored on an 11-yard touchdown run by Vincent Wydermeyer. The Yellowjackets also made their extra point kick to take a 7-3 lead.

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It appeared as if the game would be a blowout when the Yellowjackets marched down field and took a 14-3 lead on their third possession, but the Thunder defense stiffened. The Yellowjackets hit a 39-yard field goal midway through the second quarter to go up 17-3.

To the Thunder's credit they bounced back, led by former Esko quarterback Kyle Hall, and scored on a spectacular play from Keith Lofgren. Lofgren, also of Esko, made a leaping catch of a Hall pass at the 1-yard line and then made a quick move to elude a defender as he stepped into the end zone, cutting the lead to 17-10 following the extra point kick.

The third quarter featured stellar defensive efforts from both teams and Rochester did not get on the board again until 1:06 into the fourth quarter when they scored a touchdown on a 15-yard run by fullback Will Christopherson to go up 24-10. The Yellowjackets tacked on a field goal after an interception a few minutes later to take a 27-10 lead midway through the final stanza, but the Thunder responded in kind.

Hall found wide receiver Marshall Little streaking down the right sideline and threw the ball up for grabs. The athletic Little went up and over the top of a pair of Yellowjacket defenders to pull the ball down and race 53 yards to pay dirt, cutting the lead to 27-17 following the extra point.

With 2:19 remaining the Yellowjackets managed a field goal to go up 30-17, but again Hall answered with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Lofgren, his former high school teammate, to cut the lead to 30-26, but it would be too little, too late for the Thunder.

"Jasmon Watkins and Ricardo Mahone led the way with 12 and 15 tackles, respectively, on defense," explained Deleon. "Ivonte Clompton had six solo tackles and seven assisted tackles and former Barnum player Kyle Grimm had six solo and seven assisted tackles."

Hall threw for three touchdowns while completing 25-of-46 passes. Lofgren had nine catches for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Marc Young caught eight passes for 90 yards.

"We grew up as a team and as a program on Saturday because we rose to the challenge," said Deleon. "Although we fell short on the scoreboard, the team finally realized that we are a pretty good team despite being 0-4."

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The Thunder will play in a 7 p.m. matchup Thursday against Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids

"[Itasca is] a solid and well-coached team," stated Deleon. "We will have to continue to improve our offensive line play to establish a running game. We need to keep teams honest with a good mix if we are going to be successful the rest of the way."

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