Wolves put up quite a fight
by Tom Coombe
The Ely Timberwolves may have surprised everyone but themselves in their season-opener.
In the high school football program’s first 11-man regular season game in more than a decade, the Timberwolves played evenly with Class AA International Falls for the entire night.
The Broncos prevailed 25-18, but not before a few anxious moments and scares from the Wolves, who climbed back up from the 9-man level.
Senior Deegan Richards had three touchdowns for Ely, and the visiting Broncos needed to recover an onside kick in the last two minutes to close out the Aug. 31 contest at Ely School Stadium.
It was an impressive debut for the Wolves, but it came as no surprise to head coach Louie Gerzin.
“I expected us to be right in it from the start of the game,” said Gerzin. “I wasn’t surprised, but I was very proud of our team and my coaching staff.”
Ely collected more than 200 yards of total offense with an almost all-new backfield and a revamped offensive line.
Richards and junior Alex Merriman chewed up most of the yards, while freshman quarterback Sean Merriman took the reins of the offense and got some key yards on keepers.
“Our offensive line played the best I’ve ever seen,” said Gerzin. “Going up the middle all night long was our bread and butter. We were getting three to eight yards on quarterback sneaks.”
Senior Chase Anderson anchored a good sized Ely line at center and the Wolves moved the ball with the help of seniors Brayden Mosher, Gavin Marshall and Robert Towley and junior Garrett Rohr.
The Wolves had a hard time containing Broncos junior Cooper Crandall, who ran for 195 yard.
Crandall’s four-yard touchdown plunge in the opening quarter proved to be the only score of the first half and International Falls led 6-0.
Ely misfired on some first half chances, turning the ball over on downs, and a Merriman pass late in the second quarter was picked off.
International Falls, however, was stymied both by penalties and the Ely defense and it was 6-0 at halftime.
The visitors took less than three minutes to score on the opening possession of the second half and grabbed a 12-0 lead on Crandall’s six-yard run, but Ely answerer right back with a drive that was capped by Richards’ four-yard plunge. Ely misfired on the two-point conversion and trailed 12-6.
International Falls had more success through the air later in the game, with quarterback Hayden Swenson finding Crandall on a 12-yard play to make it 19-6 early in the fourth.
Ely countered with a march that led to Richards’ second touchdown, and International Falls grabbed what seemed to be the clincher when Swenson found a wide-open Crandall for his fourth touchdown - a 41-yard connection.
“They just had a couple more explosive plays than we had,” said Gerzin. “We would ball them up on defense and then they would break off a big play.”
The Wolves got a big play of their own to stay alive.
Facing fourth-and-one from midfield, Richards hit the line then cut left, breaking free on a 51-yard scoring play that brought the home crowd to life.
Ely was within one score at 25-18 but the subsequent onside kick was recovered by International Falls, which was able to run the clock out.
The Broncos had 339 total yards, with Crandall providing nearly all of the offense.
He finished with 195 yards rushing on 22 carries and caught four passes for 65 yards.
Swenson was 12-for-16 through the air for 152 yards.
Ely’s Richards rushed for 97 yards on 15 carries while Alex Merriman picked up 44 yards and Sean Merriman added another 32.
Richards also completed a 31-yard pass to sophomore end Jesse Oelke on a halfback option.
Gerzin said “I think we missed some chances early to score and that may have been the difference.”
The Wolvs traveled to Finlayson Friday, after deadline, to meet East Central. The Eagles fell 45-0 to Hinckley in their debut.
“We’re going to have to limit our turnovers and defensively we will have to open field tackle better,” said Gerzin. “Offensively we need to do a couple different things and have to be able to change it up a bit.”
Next up after East Central is a Sept. 15 home date with South Ridge, which also moves up from 9-man football this year.