Early gamble, easy win

Wolves recover onside kick to open section semifinal, blow out Northeast Range to advance to title game

TURNING THE CORNER was Ely senior running back Josh Heiman with teammate Blaise Lah providing blocking on Northeast Range defender Brett Rosendahl in Section 7 nine-man playoff action. Photo by Eric Sherman.

by Tom Coombe -

The Northeast Range Nighthawks’ upset hopes ended early in Ely on Saturday, thanks in part to an early gamble by the host Timberwolves.

Opting for a surprise onside kick to open the game, the Timberwolves recovered, scored within a minute and piled up 36 first-half points en route to a 43-24 victory in the Section 7 9-Man high school football semifinals.
Senior back Josh Heiman recovered the onside kick and went on to rush for a game-high 176 yards as the Wolves improved to 9-0, won for the 21st time in 22 contests, and advanced to Friday’s section final against Northwoods.
Wary of a Nighthawks team that had won two straight games entering the semifinal clash and much improved since an early-season 52-0 loss to the Wolves, Ely Head Coach Brian Lamppa decided - at the urging of assistant Cory Lassi - to seize momentum early on.

“Cory came up with that,” Lamppa said later in the week. “I was a little apprehensive, but Cory said if we don’t get the ball our defense would stop them. It worked to perfection.”
Dylan Kienitz’s on-side kick was secured in the air by Heiman, and the Wolves put their running game to work.
Heiman soon scored from eight yards out to cap a short drive and the two-point conversion put Ely on top 8-0.
Nighthawks senior Jon Wenzel, who ran for a career-high 313 yards against Bigfork four days earlier and had scored nine touchdowns in two previous wins, helped his team pick up a pair of first downs on the opening drive.
But Ely’s defense, which was paced by 16 tackles from junior Blaise Lah, stiffened and the Wolves put together another march.
A throw from junior quarterback Carter Gaulke set up Lah’s eight-yard touchdown run, and the Wolves put things away with a 22-point second quarter.
“We were able to drive it down and score and then we stopped them and got the ball back and we got some momentum,” said Lamppa.
Junior Matt Gerzin broke free on a 32-yard scoring scamper, and Gaulke found Omerza on a 50-yard pass. Two plays later, Omerza ran it in from 22 yards out.
Meanwhile, the Nighthawks’ offense ran right into an Ely defense that was suffocating.
Senior linebackers Augie Richter and Adam Porthan combined for an additional 23 tackles for the Wolves, who blanked Northeast Range through three quarters.
The Nighthawks, who finished 4-5, had scored 82 points in their previous two games.
“We knew Wenzel had two good games, but our defense had played well all year, and I thought our defense was better than Cook County or Bigfork (the Nighthawks’ previous two opponents).”
Lah and Casey would add touchdowns to make it 43-0 going into the final quarter, which was played in running time with Ely’s starters on the bench.
Northeast Range found the end zone three times in the fourth, with Alex Scholl scoring on runs of 18 and 17 yards and quarterback Travis Loewen reaching paydirt on a one-yard keeper.
Lowen completed a two-point conversion pass to Aaron Saari, while both Loewen and Zach Anderson had conversion runs.
The win set up a rematch with Northwoods, which waxed Cook County 52-14 in Saturday’s other semifinal.
Ely downed the Grizzlies 20-12 in an Oct. 19 showdown at Cook, and the rematch came on Esko’s artificial turf, with a berth in a Nov. 11 state quarterfinal at Duluth on the line.
“Our goal since the start of the year was to defend our section championship,” said Lamppa, who has guided Ely to state berths in 2012, 2013 and 2015. “Now we’re in the section championship game and we have a chance to do that.”
The winner of the Ely-Northwoods clash will take on either Cromwell or South Ridge in the state quarterfinal game at Duluth’s Public School Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
That winner goes to the state semifinals, which will be held at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Thursday, Nov. 17.