In a rematch of last season’s Section 7AAAA semifinals, host Cloquet turned the tables on Princeton by making the big plays in a 20-6 matinee victory on a sunny but chilly Saturday, Oct. 26.
Following a short Cloquet punt, the Tigers fumbled the ball away on their first possession after advancing inside the Cloquet 30. Three possessions later, Lumberjack senior Mitch Gotchnik burst on a long run inside Tiger ground, but the Princeton defense forced a fumble recovered at the 28 to stop that threat.
As the game moved into the second quarter, AJ Wesloh and Wyatt Dahlheimer were sprung for long rushes. Another Dahlheimer gainer set up a 1st-and-goal at the 9, and the Tigers converted on third down when Dahlheimer leaned over the left side of the O-line for the touchdown. QB Sam Archer was sacked on the two-point conversion, leaving the lead at 6-0.
The Lumberjacks answered on their next series, converting a 3rd-and-6 with a sweep and keeping alive with a QB sneak on 4th-and-1. Gotchnik broke off another long run which set up the 17-yard touchdown pass to Nicholas Niemi and a 7-6 lead. The Tigers’ last drive of the half was aided by a Lumberjack personal foul, but a holding call set the Tigers back enough to slow that momentum.
A quick-hitter on third down to wideout Tayden Savage turned into a long gain for the Lumberjacks on their first series of the second half. Gotchnik carried the ball three more times, beating the defenders to the left corner from six yards out as the Jacks’ lead extended to 13-6.
The Tigers combined runs from Archer and Cole Warren to get rolling on the next drive, then Archer hit Billy McClay in the flats for a gain inside the Cloquet half. But the ‘Jack defense dropped a run for a five-yard loss and added a sack on fourth down to stop that chance.
With the short field, Cloquet was threatening again until Warren bulldogged Gotchnik down for no gain on third down, then Trevor Hyde held on for a sack on fourth down.
The clock was ticking down to 5:44 when the Tigers were facing a 4th-and-5 at their 39. Electing to go for it, Archer connected on a bomb to McClay down to the Lumberjack 30, but a holding call nullified that gain. It got worse when Niemi blocked the punt and recovered it at the Princeton 4. Gotchnik punched in the final yards for the 20-6 Cloquet lead with 5:22 remaining.
The Lumberjack defense got a sack and a recovered fumble to end Princeton’s next threat, then it picked off a desperation Tiger pass with two minutes left to officially seal the victory.
“We were all disappointed by the loss; it’s always disappointing when you don’t play as well as you are capable,” commented Tiger Coach Roy Hanenburg. “The kids played hard despite some injuries, and playing two football games in one week is never easy.”
Cloquet (8-1) will travel to top-seed Hermantown (8-1) for the Section 7AAAA title game on Nov. 1.
Cloquet 20, Princeton 6
First Downs 15 13
Rushing 38/105 46/211
Passing 22/10/1 11/4/0
Passing Yds 119 29
Total Yds 224 240
Tiger Individual Stats: Rushing: Kitzman 16/56; Wesloh 8/33; Dahlheimer 3/23, TD; Warren 3/5; Archer 6/-8. Passing: Archer 22/10/1- 119 yds. Receiving: McClay 6/92; Green 2/18; Palmborg 1/9.
Quarters: Princeton 33, Grand Rapids 0
No. 3 seed Princeton opened the 2013 playoffs with a home shutout over No. 6 Grand Rapids Oct. 22. McClay revved up the team with a 55-yard punt return for a score just 1:50 into action.
At the beginning of the second quarter, McClay hauled in a 58-yard pass that set up Warren’s 1-yard TD run for a 13-0 lead. The Tigers recovered a Thunderhawk fumble on the Princeton 42 on the ensuring series, then the offense drove to make it 19-0 at the half on a 10-yard Joey Stenslie reception.
Wesloh ripped off a 36-yard TD rush on Princeton’s opening possession of the second half. A fumble on the kickoff was recovered by the Tigers, then Warren wrapped up the scoring on a 7-yard scoring run.
Wrapping up the season, Coach Hanenburg said, “I will truly miss this group of seniors. They were a part of the 0-9 season, then the Dome last year, and a really good season this year. This group was dedicated to the off-season program more than any other group of players I have coached. I have seen many of these guys almost every day for more than three years. and that is what made the last game very difficult– truly a great group of kids.”
Princeton 33, Grand Rapids 0
First Downs 12 10
Rushing 40/152 29/96
Passing 13/8/2 17/5/0
Passing Yds 202 32
Total Yds 354 128
Tiger Individual Stats: Rushing: Wesloh 11/80; Warren 6/42; Kitzman 12/36; Dahlheimer 4/19; Derrick 2/3. Passing: Archer 12/8/1- 202 yds, TD. Receiving: McClay 7/156; Green 1/19; Palmborg 1/17; Stenslie 1/10, TD.