Missed opportunities derail Timberwolves

by Tom Coombe

They needed a late touchdown to avoid a shutout and the final score indicated a rather decisive 29-6 decision, but the Ely Timberwolves may look back at last Tuesday’s Section 7AA playoff loss to Duluth Marshall as one that got away.<BR><BR>The high school football game turned on opportunities - with Marshall seizing on its chances to score and the Timberwolves misfiring on theirs.<BR><BR>Three turnovers, a dropped pass in the end zone and two other possessions that ended deep in Marshall territory doomed the Wolves, who were playing their first home playoff game since 1998.<BR><BR>“We had some chances and just didn’t get them,” said Ely Head Coach Darren Visser. “We had opportunities to get points on the board but it didn’t happen. That’s the disappointing thing.”<BR><BR>Two of several scoring opportunities particularly seemed to turn the tide.<BR><BR>Trailing 9-0 late in the first half, the Wolves got a chance to get back into the contest when Ernie Horvat picked off a pass near the goal line and returned it to the Ely 40.<BR><BR>A roughing the passer penalty brought the Wolves into Marshall territory, and a 33-yard completion from quarterback Tim Scott to wide receiver Steve Milkovich gave Ely first down inside the Marshall five with just six seconds remaining in the half.<BR><BR>Scott threw an incompletion on the first play and his second pass was dropped in the end zone on the final play of the half.<BR><BR>“That one right before the half, where we dropped the touchdown pass, was big,” said Visser. “It sure would have been nice at halftime going down at worst 9-6.”<BR><BR>The Wolves got another chance on their first possession of the third quarter.<BR><BR>Ely got down to the Marshall 10, but the Hilltoppers pressured Scott, and the Wolves ended up turning the ball over on downs.<BR><BR>Later in the quarter, Marshall converted on fourth-and-goal from the five as quarterback Jake Anderson hooked up with Adam Machones on a five-yard touchdown pass.<BR><BR>The drive was set up primarily by the running of senior back Nick LaBounty, who ran for a game-high 216 yards on 27 carries. Marshall racked up 436 yards of total offense, with an almost even split between their running and passing game.<BR><BR>“We knew their passing game was there, and that they had big play capability, but they ran the ball better than I expected them too,” said Visser. “Their line opened up some holes and that back was tough to bring down.”<BR><BR>Desperation set in for the Wolves in the final quarter, and Scott threw a pair of interceptions as the Wolves tried to get a big play.<BR><BR>Marshall (4-5) finished Ely off with a one-yard scoring run by LaBounty and a 53-yard touchdown pass from Anderson to Jake McDonnel.<BR><BR>Anderson completed 11-of-20 passes for 223 yards. Machones, a 6-4 target, had six catches for 95 yards while the speedy McDonnell had five receptions and 128 yards.<BR><BR>Ely got on the scoreboard in the closing minute, as Scott found Popesh for a 37-yard scoring play.<BR><BR>Both teams had opportunities in the first half, but the defenses were up to the test in the opening quarter.<BR><BR>Ely, behind several strong runs from Mike Krunkkala, got to the Marshall 25 before turning it over on downs.<BR><BR>The Ely defense also came up with a stand, stopping the Hilltoppers inside the Ely 10.<BR><BR>But a Wolves fumble gave Marshall the ball at the Ely 42, and the Wolves were later pinned deep in their territory on fourth down.<BR><BR>That led to the first score of the game, as Marshall picked up a safety when a high snap to Scott, Ely’s punter, forced him out of the end zone.<BR><BR>The Hilltoppers got the ball at the Ely 45 after the free kick, and marched down the field in short order. LaBounty plowed in from 10 yards out and Machones added the extra-point to make it 9-0.<BR><BR>Marshall threatened to extend the lead before the end of the half, but that’s when Horvat came up with the interception that seemed to turn momentum back toward the home team.<BR><BR>“If we get a touchdown there it might have been a different game,” said Visser.<BR><BR>Krunkkala led the Wolves with 67 yards rushing, while Scott was nine-of-24 for 149 yards.<BR><BR>Horvat had five catches for 72 yards and was Ely’s top tackler with 14 stops.<BR><BR>Mike Fenn had 12 tackles and Scott finished with 10 for the Wolves, who rebounded from a 1-3 start to salvage a .500 regular season and gain a top-four seed for the playoffs.<BR><BR>“I think the season was a success,” said Visser. “To start 1-3 and pull back to get a home playoff game, that’s an accomplishment. We wanted to play another game and we were disappointed to lose, but looking back as a whole, there were a lot of great points about the whole season.”<BR><BR>Tuesday’s game was the last in an Ely football uniform for 11 seniors: Scott, Krunkkala, Fenn, A.J. Johnson, Mike Popesh, Luke Spangler, Nathan Meskill, Kevin Hartshorn, Bill Saw, Eric Park and John Eininger.<BR><BR>• Marshall advanced to play top seed Esko in Saturday’s 7AA semifinals. Number-two Moose Lake-Willow River met third-seed Greenway in the other semifinal.<BR><BR>The finals are Friday night at Duluth.<BR><BR>