Down 21-8 late in the first half, Braham held Deer River in check the rest of the way en route to a 36-21 victory in the Section 7A football championship Nov. 3 in Duluth.
The Bombers earned their first State berth since 2004 and fifth overall with the win; they will play the quarterfinal match back in Duluth 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11 against Mahnomen (11-0) out of Section 6A. The powerful Indians are averaging 41.3 points/game this season while allowing just 5.5 points/game.
“This State berth is not about me, it’s about the kids. I don’t eat over the week, I lose sleep over the week– I look just like a wreck. The reason I want this so bad is for the kids. The kids have put in so much time and so much effort. The experience they gained from tonight and hopefully next Friday night is just incredible,” said Braham Coach Shawn Kuhnke.
Deer River back Damon Benham had a huge first half with his hard running style accounting for all three of his team’s touchdowns. The game began with the teams trading punts and the Warriors stopping the Bombers on a fourth-down play inside the 25. Benham broke the ice with a 28-yard run near the end of the first quarter. Following a Warrior pick, Benham showed his tough running style when he ran through two tacklers to score on a 25-yard ramble to make it 14-0.
The Bombers answered back with a 63-yard drive capped by Tyler Vaughan scoring on a four-yard run on third-and-goal. Sam Stigen caught the two-pointer to make it 14-8. Deer River rolled right back downfield, with Benham leaping into the end zone on a four-yard slam.
But with 35 ticks left in the half, Vaughan and Cory Ambrose lit a spark for Braham by connecting on a 59-yard catch-and-run which pulled the team to 21-14.
“I just saw they were in man coverage, and I had the guy by a couple steps. Tyler and I looked at each other in the eyes, then it was just slow motion from there. Scoring in the section championship is the greatest feeling ever– it was just unreal,” said Ambrose next to the locker room after the win.
“When they drove down late and had a first-and-goal inside our 10, I wanted to save as much time as possible by calling that timeout. I have faith in our guys that we could go down and score, get the momentum on our side going into the locker room at halftime,” explained Coach Kuhnke.
Second half rally
The Bombers opened the second half driving well on the legs of fullback Kevin Strelow and Vaughan keepers, but the Warriors shut the door with a pick in the end zone. Braham held on DR’s next possession, then Shaun Hollencamp began his monster second half with a long reception which got the ball to the DR 5. A couple plays later, he broke a tackle at the 2 to finish off an 11-yard scoring catch. Ambrose’s two-pointer on a reverse had Braham leading for the first time at 22-21 with 14.4 seconds left in the third.
“Ultimately, the best defense is a good offense. We had some good ball control in the first half, but we knew they were loading up on Tyler. We had to get other guys involved, and other guys stepped up. That’s what makes a good football team. It’s about 11 players out on the field on every given play. Tonight, we were the better football team– our guys just played so hard,” said Coach Kuhnke.
“Basically at half, we talked about wrapping up on Benham, and holding the line better so he couldn’t run right by us,” said defensive end Cameron Braund on the defensive adjustments. “The second half, I would grade us at 110 percent for our effort. Our team just had a great effort overall. And our offensive line has developed so much this season. Our new starters this year have done the best job possible.”
Coach Kuhnke had faith in his defense when he had Vaughan roll an onside kick which Zach Dahlman recovered. A pass to Ambrose got the Bombers back into Warrior territory, then later on 3rd-and-8, Vaughan found Hollencamp on an out for a 9-yard TD reception to create a 28-21 cushion.
“I just came back to the huddle and told Tyler, ‘Look at me more– that guy can’t stay with me.’ And he kept throwing me perfect balls,” said Hollencamp.
With seven minutes left to play, two Benham runs had Deer River inside Braham territory, but he was stopped by mere inches from converting a 4th-and-4, turning the ball over to the Bombers at the 33. The clock-weardown drive was kept alive by two 3rd-down catches by Hollencamp. Then the tall wideout attacked the Warrior secondary one more time when he broke off a 64-yard scoring reception for icing with 3:28 remaining.
“I had pursuers coming at me. I was just sprinting big-time because I didn’t want to get tackled– I just kept going. I was so excited on that play!” recalled Hollencamp.
Deer River did not quit, however. They got into Braham territory, but Ambrose came up big again by hauling in an interception on a bomb attempt. The Bombers picked up a first down to make the Warriors burn their timeouts, then they went into their “Victory” formation for the final kneel-down.
“This win means so much! It’s the greatest feeling winning a section championship– the best feeling ever!” exclaimed Ambrose.
“This championship is the best feeling in the world!” added Braund. “It feels great to be able to come back up here to Duluth for State next week.”
More on Mahnomen
Mahnomen leads the Class A qualifiers with 20 State appearances and seven State championships. The Indians’ last State title came in 1998 when they defeated host Braham 45-28 in the Class AA quarterfinals. The offense is led by senior runningback Avery Fairbanks who ran for 124 yards and 2 TD in the 28-7 win over Browerville in the Section 6A championship. Junior QB Jacob Pavek added 114 rushing yards and a TD in the win. The team is now coached by John Clark Jr. after being run by legendary coach Ken Baumann (287 wins in 32 seasons).
Braham 36, Deer River 21 (Bomber stats)
Rushing: Vaughan 21/70, TD; Strelow 8/56; Ambrose 8/34; Hollencamp 3/9. Passing: Vaughan 24/16/2- 285 yards, 4 TD. Receiving: Hollencamp 7/136, 3 TD; Ambrose 6/113, TD; Stigen 1/13; Mattson 1/12; Strelow 1/11. Tackles: Strelow 7, Ambrose 7, Vaughan 5, Sward 4.5, Braund 3.5, Mattson 3, Sutton 3, Slama 2 (sack).Kicking: Vaughan 2 punts/36.0 avg; Vaughan 6 kickoffs/30.7 avg.
Class A State Tourney Schedule
Nov. 11 Quarterfinals:
Braham (9-1) vs. Mahnomen (11-0) @ Duluth Public Stadium, 8 p.m.
Sleepy Eye (8-3) vs. Adrian (10-1) @ Southwest State
Dawson-Boyd (11-0) vs. Warren-Alvardo-Oslo (8-3) @ U of M-Morris
Blooming Prairie (10-1) vs. Lester Prairie (9-1) @ Macalester
Semifinals at Metrodome: Braham’s upper bracket winners 10:15 a.m. Nov. 18; Lower bracket winners 10:15 a.m. Nov. 19
Class A Championship at Metrodome: Prep Bowl XXX Nov. 25, 1 p.m.
2011 Braham Football stats through 7A championship
Rushing: Tyler Vaughan 172 att/1,294 yds, 18 TD; Cory Ambrose 59/623, 10 TD; Kevin Strelow 50/346, TD; Shaun Hollencamp 34/157, 2 TD.
Passing: Tyler Vaughan 127 att/87 comp/4 int- 1,362 yds, 24 TD; Sam Stigen 8/6/1- 43 yds, TD.
Receiving: Cory Ambrose 38 rec/554 yds, 12 TD; Shaun Hollencamp 27/477, 6 TD; Dylan Altendorf 13/202, 3 TD; Nick Mattson 5/95, 3 TD; Anthony Bias 2/47, TD.
Tackles/Assists/Sacks: Kevin Strelow 45/28/2; Cameron Braund 39/16/4.5; Shaun Hollencamp 28/15/.5; Bryce Lanhart 30/8/0; Tyler Vaughan 25/16/0; Cory Ambrose 26/9/0; Nick Mattson 19/13/0; Nick Hammond 14/11/2; Alex Sutton 15/6/3; Marshall Sward 13/6/0.
Scoring: Braham 437 points, Opponents 185.