N-K sacks Wolves’ upset bid

by Tom Coombe

As several scoring opportunities went by the wayside, so did the Ely Timberwolves’ hopes for an upset win at Nashwauk-Keewatin.<BR><BR>The high school football team didn’t reach the end zone until the final minute of the Sept. 25 Polar Conference contest. By then, it was too late and the Spartans were on their way to a 23-6 victory.<BR><BR>Ely (1-3) turned the ball over on downs three times in N-K territory, twice inside the Spartan 10.<BR><BR>That doomed the Wolves, whose defense contained the Spartans after the hosts jumped out to a 13-0 first quarter lead.<BR><BR>“Take away the first quarter and I thought we played three very good quarters of defense,” said Ely Head Coach Darren Visser. “We stiffened up and hung in there tight, but we just could not get into the end zone.”<BR><BR>The Wolves turned momentum their way late in the first half, when senior Mike Fenn picked off a pass and returned it 52 yards to the N-K 40.<BR><BR>But a penalty and the first of five sacks suffered by Ely quarterback Tim Scott stalled the offense before it could reach paydirt.<BR><BR>It was more of the same in the second half, when Ely outgained the Spartans but couldn’t cut into their lead.<BR><BR>After giving up a safety in the third quarter, the Wolves eventually got the ball back and marched down the field.<BR><BR>Completions of 16 and 15 yards from Scott to Ernie Horvat, who had a team-high seven catches for 73 yards, were key to the drive.<BR><BR>Ely got the ball to the N-K nine and had first-and-goal, but Spartan defensive end Jerry Miersch broke through and sacked Scott for a 10-yard loss.<BR><BR>Miersch, a 6-4 senior, had four sacks in the game.<BR><BR>The Wolves got the ball back to the N-K 10 on fourth down, but turned the ball over after an incompletion.<BR><BR>“We had a really good opportunity there,” said Visser. “I thought there was pass interference in the end zone but we didn’t get the call. There we could have got to within seven points and we would have had a good chance.”<BR><BR>Trailing 15-0 with time running out, Ely turned the ball over on downs at its own 25, which led to a game-clinching score, a 12-yard pass from Reid Velo to Miersch.<BR><BR>The Wolves finally got on the board with under a minute to play, as Scott and Mike Popesh connected on a 60-yard scoring play.<BR><BR>But by then, the Wolves were out of time.<BR><BR>Ely’s offense was hampered by five penalties and some untimely sacks.<BR><BR>Miersch pressured and sacked Scott to spoil several Ely chances.<BR><BR>“They had a good pass rush and got to Timmy, and that didn’t help things either,” said Visser.<BR><BR>Scott completed 12-of-19 passes for 142 yards.<BR><BR>Senior Mike Krunkkala was the Wolves’ top ground gainer, rushing 13 times for 35 yards.<BR><BR>Early on, it looked like the Spartans (3-1), the defending Section 7A champions, would win in a blowout.<BR><BR>N-K scored quickly in the first quarter, with Velo sprinting past the defense on fourth-and-one and scoring on a 46-yard run. The extra-point kick by Tom Stoll made it 7-0.<BR><BR>The Spartans forced a punt on Ely’s next possession and took advantage of good field position - moving 53 yards on nine plays to take a two-touchdown lead.<BR><BR>This time it was running back Derrick Pleshe, who scored on a six-yard burst.<BR><BR>He led the Spartans, who amassed 199 yards on the ground, with 87 yards in 15 carries.<BR><BR>But Ely also had scoring chances in the first half.<BR><BR>An 11-yard gain by Steve Milkovich and completions to Horvat and A.J. Johnson helped the Wolves move down field in the second quaarter.<BR><BR>Ely got to the N-K nine before turning it over on downs.<BR><BR>The Spartans threatened to tack on a third score before the half, but Fenn’s interception gave the Wolves another opportunity.<BR><BR>For the game, the Spartans outgained the Wolves 287-170. Scott had nine solo tackles and fellow senior Kevin Hartshorn added six to pace the Ely defense.<BR><BR>