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Another heartbreaker for Vermilion

For the Vermilion Ironmen, it was the same old story. The same old sad story.The community college football team suffered its second close defeat in as many weeks Thursday night, as Hibbing escaped Ely School Stadium with a 26-23 victory, and eliminated the Ironmen from contention for a state playoff berth.The loss came on the heels of a 30-28 loss to Northern Division rival Itasca seven days before, and both games had eerie similarities for the Ironmen, who lost for the third straight week and fell to 2-5 for the seasonVermilion fell behind in both games, only to charge back down the stretch.The Ironmen were also done in by big plays in both weeks.Itasca used two deflected passes and a last-second field goal to sink the Ironmen, while Hibbing (6-1) had an 80-yard kickoff return, a 64-yard touchdown pass and recovered a fumble, all in the pivotal second half.The loss, all but assured after Vermilion turned the ball over on downs with two minutes to play, spoiled a gallant second-half effort by the Ironmen.Vermilion trailed 6-3 at the half and fell behind by two touchdowns on three separate occasions in the second half.Each time, the Ironmen came back, behind a rejuvenated offense and a rushing attack led by freshman back Tyree Pinder, who had a game-high 119 yards rushing and two touchdowns.Vermilion outgained the Cardinals 342-272, including a 282-145 margin in the second half, but the visitors did just enough to pull the game out.Early on, VCC’s Jon Dodds pounced on a Hibbing fumble at the Cardinal 10. The Ironmen couldn’t advance, but Bob Karr came on for a 22-yard field goal that gave the hosts a 3-0 lead.The defenses largely dominated the first half, but Hibbing came to life in the second quarter and marched 51 yards after it partially deflected a Marty Niles punt.In eight plays, the Cardinals got on the board. An 11-yard sprint by Corey Shepherd gave Hibbing first-and-goal, and back Elroy Harris plunged in from the three.That set the stage for a shootout in the second half.Hibbing got on the board first, when quarterback Reese Hagins completed a 21-yard throw to receiver Cedrick Evans.Vermilion was on its way to answering the score when the ball was stripped from running back Keena Turner, after a run into Hibbing territory.The Ironmen finally revved up the offense with time running out in the third quarter.Quarterback Lenny Serfling completed a 13-yard scoring strike to Jason Vinje, a freshman receiver from Esko. The extra-point failed but the Ironmen were back in the game, trailing 13-9.Hibbing answered right back, as Mike Fields took the ensuing kickoff, dodged a defender near midfield and raced down the left sideline and then back over the middle for an 80-yard touchdown run.That gave the Cardinals a 20-9 lead after three quarters.Vermilion would rally twice in the fourth.The running game, led by Pinder, started to chew up yards and VCC set up a 12-yard scoring run by Pinder with a 38-yard completion from Serfling to Irvin Bethea.That cut the gap to 20-15.Hibbing responded with what may have been the backbreaker.On third-and-seven from the 36, Hagins escaped a sack and connected with Fields. The Hibbing receiver broke three tackles on his way to the end zone, making it a two touchdown game yet again.VCC would again come back, this time with Pinder scoring on a three-yard dive with 8:38 to go. The Ironmen would add the two-point conversion and trailed 26-23.The Vermilion defense forced a punt, and the Ironmen got the ball back with five minutes to play.They picked up a first down and then stalled at midfield.Serfling’s fourth-and-five pass to Vinje fell short, and the Cardinals got the ball back and ran out the clock.Serfling finished seven-for-14 for 86 yards, while Pinder (119 yards), Evan Nikunen (47) and Turner (36) paced the rushing attack.The Ironmen go to International Falls Friday to take on Rainy River. They finish the regular season Oct. 28 with a home game against Northland.

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