by Scott DCamp
The Northland football checked off one of its team goals for the 2017 season when it steamrolled Mesabi Range 68-35 to win the 2017 MCAC State Championship.
The Sunday afternoon game was held at Husky Stadium on the campus of St. Cloud State University and the fast artificial surface helped the potent Pioneer offense gain more than 600 yards to help secure the school’s first ever conference championship in football.
The first half was competitive with four lead changes and Mesabi Range taking a 28-27 lead into the locker room. The biggest second half adjustment for the Pioneers was to simply play better.
“We had to rip some serious ass because we were not playing like us,” Cox said. “We were doing things that we had never done before. I don’t know if it was the nerves of being in the game or not, but we weren’t doing the things we needed to do.”
Cox said there were a few adjustments made scheme-wise but the biggest adjustment was that the team started to execute properly. The result was a 41-7 second half advantage for the Pioneers.
“There was a whole lot of ass chewing at the appropriate time and the three quick turnovers defensively set up the points and it was all over,” Cox added.
Northland took an early 7-0 lead in the game following a six-play, 53 yard drive,, with quarterback Shannon Patrick connecting with Dwayne Taylor for the first of his eight touchdown passes.
Mesabi Range’s Terrance Wenzel returned the ensuing kickoff to the Northland 40-yard line and the Norseman quickly answered the Pioneer score with a three-play, 40-yard drive that culminated in a 31-yard touchdown pass from dual threat quarterback Deabrie Smith to Jaleel Grimes.
Mesabi got the ball back in great field position at the Northland 43-yard line following a Northland three and out. The Norsemen once again scored quickly, this time needing just two plays to score with Jakobe Ellerbee scoring on a 43-yard pass from Smith.
Both defenses tightened things up for a couple series before Northland put together a game-tying six-play, 64-yard drive that ended with a six-yard pass from Patrick to Ishmil Mitchell.
Northland got the ball back plays later on the first of cornerback Quan Priestly’s three interceptions. It took the Pioneers just three plays regain the lead, with Taylor snagging a 34-yard touchdown pass from Patrick.
Back-to-back second quarter Northland drives ended in interceptions that set Mesabi Range up with short fields. The Pioneers blocked a field goal after pushing Mesabi Range back a yard on its first opportunity.
On the next play,, Mesabi corner AJ Solomon picked off Patrick and returned the interception to the Northland four-yard line. Two plays later, Tenaj Robinson-Bowens scored on a three-yard run to tie the game.
Northland was driving shortly before the half when an apparent incomplete pass to Kris King was ruled a fumble and returned to the Northland 43-yard line. Three plays later, Smith completed his third touchdown pass of the half – a 46-yard completion to Terrance Wenzel – to go up 28-21.
Northland running back Deion Hogan returned the ensuing kickoff to the Mesabi 36-yard line to set up a four-play, 36-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 23-yard Patrick to Taylor touchdown pass. After a high snap, Ensley’s PAT attempt was pushed wide right, giving Mesabi Range a 28-27 lead at the half.
Northland’s defense stiffened in the third quarter, forcing three turnovers, two three and outs, and a turnover on downs; while the Pioneer offense cleaned up its first half mistakes and came to life, scoring 28 third quarter points to blow the game wide open.
A 65-yard touchdown run by Hogan got the scoring started for the Pioneers on their first play from scrimmage in the second half.
Two series later, Hogan scored from five-yards out to give the Pioneers a 42-28 lead.
Northland added scoring drives of 80 and 44 yards to round out a third quarter where it put the ball in the end zone four times in five possessions.
A 10-yard pass by Patrick to Dakari Highsmith made it 62-28 in favor of the Pioneers.
Mesabi kept battling and scored on a 75-yard pass by Smith to Trevin Howard.
Rounding out the scoring for the Pioneers was a 41-yard touchdown reception by Williams.
In addition to accomplishing its team goal of winning a conference title, the Pioneers are also one step closer to accomplishing another goal – to win the school’s first bowl game.
Northland’s only previous bowl game appearance came in 2002. After losing 24-14 in the conference title game, the Pioneers accepted an invatation to play in the Graphic Edge Bowl, where they were defeated 41-22 by North Dakota State College of Science.
As champions of the MCAC/NJCAA Region 13, Northland will be able to choose between the Graphic Edge Bowl in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and the Red Grange Bowl in DuPage County, Ill.
1 2 3 4 T
Northland…………..21 6 28 13 68
Mesabi Range……..14 14 0 7 35
NCTC – Dwayne Taylor 10-yard pass from Shannon Patrick, Dontae Ensley kick.
MR – Jaleel Grimes 31-yard pass from Deabrie Smith, kick good.
MR – Jakobee Ellerbee 43-yard pass from Smith, kick good.
NCTC – Ishmil Mitchell 6-yard pass from Patrick, Ensley kick.
NCTC – Taylor 34-yard touchdown pass from Patrick, Ensley kick.
MR – Tenaj Robinson-Bowens 3-yard run, kick good.
MR – Terrance Wenzel 46-yard pass from Smith, kick good.
NCTC – Taylor 23-yard pass from Patrick, kick failed.
NCTC – Deion Hogan 65-yard run, Patrick pass to Malik Williams.
NCTC – Hogan 5-yard run, Ensley kick.
NCTC – Kris King 40-yard pass from Patrick, Ensley kick.
NCTC – Williams 14-yard pass from Patrick, kick failed.
NCTC – Dakari Highsmith 10-yard pass from Patrick, Ensley kick.
MR – Trevin Howard 75-yard pass from Smith, kick good.
NCTC – Williams 41-yard pass from Patrick, kick failed.
• First downs – NCTC 29; MR 19.
• Fumbles (total-lost) – NCTC 1-1; MR 1-1.
• Penalties (number-yards) – NCTC 12-105; MR 10-75.
• Punts (number-averge) – NCTC 4-35.3; MR 4-32.3.
• Rushing (attempts-yards) – NCTC 22-103, 2 touchdowns; MR 30-88.
• Passing – NCTC 29-for-46, 505 yards, 8 touchdowns, 2 interceptions; MR 21-for-43, 391 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4 interceptions.
• Total yards – NCTC 608; MR 479.
• Rushing – (NCTC) Deion Hogan 7-85, 2 touchdowns; Joe Cash 9-37; (MR) Jaleel Grimes 4-36; Tenai Robinson-Bowens 6-33, touchdowns.
• Passing – (NCTC) Shannon Patrick 28-for-45, 501 yards, 8 touchdowns, 2 interceptions; Dwayne Taylor 1-for-1, 4 yards; (MR) Debrie Smith 21-for-43, 391 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4 interceptions.
• Receiving – (NCTC) Dakari Highsmith 8-153, touchdown; Malik Williams 7-140, 2 touchdowns; Kris King 5-90, touchdown; Dwayne Taylor 5-89, 3 touchdowns; (MR) Terrance Wenzel 5-83; Trevin Howard 4-90, touchdown; Jaleel Grimes 3-87, 2 touchdowns; Jakobe Ellerbee 2-29.
• Defense – (NCTC) Quan Priestley 3 interceptions; Tarik Davis interception; Daryl Smith 6 tackles; Kendall Sylvester 5 tackles; Justin Scott 4 tackles; Maleek McCatty 4 tackles; (MR) Devontae Mitchell interception; Antonio Ortiz interception; Gerald Robinson 5 tackels; Justin Hooks 5 tackles; Tae Page 4 tackles; AJ Solomon 2 tackles.