Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin running back Ty Donahue ran for 121 yards and two scores to lead the Titans to a 12-7 win at Esko in the opening round of the Section 7AAA playoffs Tuesday, Nov. 17.

Esko looked to come out and dominate early in the game. A Nolan Witt sack of GNK quarterback Aidan Rajala left the Titans with a fourth-and-25 at their own 4-yard line.

The Titans’ 28-yard punt set the Eskomos up at the GNK 32. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Ty Christensen found Dylan Edlund over the middle for a 32-yard strike to give Esko a 7-0 lead early.

After the early lapse, however, the GNK defense stiffened and wouldn’t allow another first down in the half.

“We’ve had a big learning curve, we put a lot of young guys in early on,” GNK coach Mark Gibeau said. “That was the challenge going into this game today was you can’t spot teams 14, 20 points. When that happened we just told them, ‘It’s one play, we’ve got to reset.’ We switched up the defense a little bit, and I’m proud of the kids for the way they responded.”

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Greenway tight end Keegan Warmuth (40) celebrates as the clock runs out in the second half of the opening round of the Section 7AAA playoffs against Esko Tuesday, Nov. 17, at Esko Athletic Complex. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Greenway tight end Keegan Warmuth (40) celebrates as the clock runs out in the second half of the opening round of the Section 7AAA playoffs against Esko Tuesday, Nov. 17, at Esko Athletic Complex. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

On the next drive, Aidan Rajala found Gage Waldvogel for a 29-yard completion to set up Donahue’s 2-yard scoring run in the first quarter.

After trading punts through most of the second quarter, the Titans drove down to the Esko 5-yard line. A sack by Eskomo senior Kevin Gregory III stalled the drive, with GNK turning it over on downs to end the half.

The Eskomos were set to receive the opening kick, but a squib kick by the Titans was recovered at the Esko 31, setting up Donahue’s second score.

“We told the kids, you’re going to have to win this game on special teams,” Giebeau said. “Esko, traditionally, has always had great special teams. You have to be able to stop them. We wanted to squib the ball and sometimes you get lucky ... The kids worked hard and they got that chance and made a play.”

Esko had a couple more chances, including recovering a Donahue fumble late in the game, but couldn’t sustain a drive to take the lead — a problem that plagued the Eskomos all season. The team finished with just 129 yards of total offense against GNK.

“I just don’t think we found our identity,” Esko coach Scott Arntson said. “Each year, you have a play you can go to. It’s crunch time and you know what you’re going to call and, I don’t know, this year we never really had one I felt like I could go to any time. We were trying to figure out are we a passing team? Are we a running team? We just couldn’t seem to do anything consistently and that’s on me.”

One bright spot to the Eskomos’ season is they may have found a quarterback for next year. Each of the past three seasons, Esko (3-4) has started the year with a signal-caller with no varsity experience at the position. Christensen split time this season with Gregory, but next season the team will have at least one player with significant time playing quarterback.

GNK (2-5) moves on to play Two Harbors at noon Saturday, Nov. 21, at Egerdahl Field in Proctor.

Esko linebacker Cole Engen (54) (right) topples over Greenway running back Ty Donahue (11) after tackles from Esko defensive backs Brett Lillo (8) (left) and Mason Perich (30) (second from left) in the second half of the opening round of the Section 7AAA playoffs Tuesday, Nov. 17, at Esko Athletic Complex. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Esko linebacker Cole Engen (54) (right) topples over Greenway running back Ty Donahue (11) after tackles from Esko defensive backs Brett Lillo (8) (left) and Mason Perich (30) (second from left) in the second half of the opening round of the Section 7AAA playoffs Tuesday, Nov. 17, at Esko Athletic Complex. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

GNK 6-0-6-0

Esko 7-0-0-0

E — Dylan Edlund 32 pass from Ty Christensen (Avery Liljegren kick)

GNK — Ty Donahue 2 run (run failed)