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Vikings spoil Cloquet's homecoming

Cloquet's Andre Peters runs past North Branch's Drew Wilmet on a 37-yard touchdown carry. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal1 / 3
Cloquet's Alex Leuzzo uses a stiff-arm to escape the tackle of North Branch's Gavyn Jensen-Schnieder during the Friday, Sept. 21, football game on Bromberg Field. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal2 / 3
Cloquet's Conrad Kiehn advances a North Branch fumble with help from a number of teammates blocking Friday, Sept. 21. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal3 / 3

CLOQUET — Huddled around each other following last week's football game against Cloquet, North Branch players sang their best renditions of "Happy Birthday" to a teammate.

The best gift of the night, however, was on the scoreboard.

Eric Nadeau, Thomas Wurdemann and Conner Hartmann combined for 271 yards and all three Vikings' touchdowns as North Branch spoiled Cloquet's homecoming with an 18-14 victory Friday, Sept. 21, before a packed Bromberg Field.

Plenty of purple- and white-dressed fans came out to watch Queen Ellie Peddle and King Andres Peters be crowned the Lumberjacks' newest royalty, yet the Vikings — joyously cheering with their own blaze-orange, hunting-dressed student section afterward — weren't phased by the big moment.

"We're going to enjoy this one," said Hartmann, who had 75 workmanlike yards on 11 carries and plunged in the last of his two touchdowns with 9:08 remaining to put North Branch up for good. "We knew we were coming up against a very good football team, but we were prepared. It feels great."

And that it should. Second-ranked Cloquet (3-1) hadn't lost on their home turf in almost two years — Oct. 7, 2016 — while they had won 15 of their past 16 contests, their only blemish coming in November's Class AAAA Prep Bowl.

It looked as if their winning ways would continue last week when the Lumberjacks scored on just their second play, when the senior Peters sprinted 37 yards for a touchdown.

Less than five minutes later — and Hartmann's 35-yard scoring spurt to tie the game 6-6 — must-see junior Markus Pokornowski cut back to his right, made several would-be Viking tacklers miss and put Cloquet up from 18 yards out.

While the Lumberjacks led 14-6 at halftime — where several football players were on the 20-member homecoming court — the Vikings (2-2) did the rest of the scoring. Nadeau had 11 yards in the third quarter and Hartmann added his game-winner from the goal line early in the fourth.

"We ground and pound," said Hartmann, an ultra-athletic, 6-foot-4, 190-pound senior who meshes well with the fullback, Wurdemann, and slippery 5-foot-9 Nadeau in the backfield.

"They're special backs," first-year North Branch coach Justin Voss said. "They're hard-nosed runners and our offensive line set it up."

Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz, now in his 16th year, agreed.

"They're solid athletes," Lenarz said of the Vikings' three-headed running monster. "It was really just them being more physical than us. We got beat at the point of attack."

"We're both good football teams," added Cloquet senior quarterback Riley Leslie, who was 4-of-7 passing for 54 yards and rushed for 33 more yards. "They just had a better night."

And as tradition shows, there could be another night between these two. The Lumberjacks and Vikings vied for the Section 7AAAA crown last fall. Cloquet won 46-26 and advanced all the way to the state championship.

"Last year's last year and this year's this year," Leslie said. "We're going to go as far as we can go and do what we can do. We're a good football team."

"They've got a strong tradition going," Voss said. "We certainly could see them again. And they'll be ready for us."

Cloquet 14-0-0-0—14

North Branch 6-0-6-6—18

C — Andre Peters 37 run (kick fail)

NB — Conner Hartmann 35 run (run fail)

C — Markus Pokornowski 18 run (Riley Leslie pass to Joel Grimm)

NB — Eric Nadeau 11 run (run fail)

NB — Hartmann 1 run (run fail)