Finally... Friday night home debut ends long wait for Wolves

by Tom Coombe -

It’s easy to understand if the Ely Timberwolves have a bit of extra energy Friday night at Ely School Stadium.
After waiting and waiting and waiting, and four weeks of practice, they’ll finally lock up with an opposing team.
With a forfeit win already in tow, the high school football team makes its on-the-field debut against local rival Northeast Range.
The 7 p.m. tilt ends a painfully long wait for the defending section champions,who enter the season with high hopes after reaching the state semifinals in 2015.
Led by senior back Josh Heiman, who ran for nearly 1,800 yards and 24 touchdowns a year ago, as well as a mix of returning and new faces to the lineup, the Wolves have been practicing only against each other since pre-season workouts began in mid-August.
A Sept. 1 season-opener with Lake of the Woods was called off and forfeited to the Wolves when the Bears couldn’t field enough players to compete.
The Wolves have no lack of numbers, with 32 players in grades 9-12 itching to get on to the field.
Head Coach Brian Lamppa has toned back the practice schedule to ease the risk of burnout, and the off time has allowed scouting opportunities, but it’s no substitute for the Friday night lights and on-the-field action.
Northeast Range actually began its season a week early, falling 22-16 to Mt. Iron-Buhl in an Aug. 26, turnover-filled contest at Babbitt.
The Nighthawks, who lost 46-0 to Ely a year ago, figure to improve after a 2-7 season last fall and have eight seniors, including burly backs Jon and Joe Wenzel. They combined for nearly 200 yards on the ground in the opener.
Friday’s game is just one of three regular season home matchups for the Wolves, whose schedule was thrown into disarray when three 2015 opponents - Lake of the Woods, Cherry and Mesabi Academy - forfeited, cancelled their program or closed entirely.
Ely has filled the gap with two long road trips, one to Northland (Remer)-Hill City and another to Siren, Wis.
Should the Wolves rank near the top of Section 7, they’ll likely have either one or two home playoff dates in late-October.