After claiming a conference championship and No. 1 seed for the playoffs, Braham had its hands full with No. 8 seed Cook County in the Oct. 22 Section 7A playoff opener. But a second-half surge kept the Bombers’ season perfect with a 32-6 win over the Vikings.
Braham next will host No. 5 Blackduck in the 2 p.m. semifinals on Saturday, Oct. 26. The Drakes defeated No. 4 East Central 20-0 in their Oct. 22 matchup. No. 2 Barnum (26-7 over Walker) and No. 3 Deer River (34-14 over Ogilvie) will meet in the other 7A semifinals. Saturday’s winners will square off in the Oct. 31 championship (4:45 p.m.) at Duluth Public Stadium.
Tuesday night’s quarterfinal began in typical 1 vs. 8 fashion with Braham’s defense forcing two 3-and-out punts and the offense scoring twice for an early 12-0 edge. Elijah Overton ducked outside and sprinted for a 33-yard touchdown run four minutes into action, then John Larson capped a short drive with a 3-yard score.
As the game moved into the second quarter, however, the Vikings reconnected with their proud football history, running the ball well on a 49-yard drive. Jacob Schroeder’s 5-yard touchdown rush made it 12-7.
Things got dicier when Braham fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, and Cook County converted a crucial 4th-and-3 pass to knock on the doorstep again. But linebacker Alex Sutton timed a blitz perfectly on the Vikings’ next 4th down attempt, getting the ball back to Braham on its 13 yard line.
Snow crystals began falling harder at the start of the second half when a rejuvenated Braham squad began with a long Randy Braund kick return. Larson passes to Tristan Marthaler (6/96 yards for game) set up an 18-yard Zach Dahlman sprint-away TD and a 20-6 lead.
The Bombers’ defensive work on Cook’s next series typified the second-half resurgence. D-tackle Doniven Slama led a gang tackle for a loss on the first run. Cornerback Quinn Richmond fought off two blockers for a no-gain tackle on a screen pass, then Sutton stone-cold stuffed a run to force a punt.
Two screens to Dahlman (7/92 yards receiving on night), a long Larson run, and another slot reception by Marthaler set up Sonny Foote’s 1-yard TD run through a wide hole. Braham’s final score was a 7-yard Dahlman catch with 59 seconds left in the third quarter.
• Braham locked up the Great Polar Football Alliance Blue conference title outright by hammering host Hinckley-Finlayson 40-7 Oct. 16. Larson scored on a 13-yard run on the Bombers’ first series, and D-tackle Johnny Clemmer ran down a Jaguar back in the end zone for a safety for an 8-0 Bomber lead in the first quarter.
The lead grew to 20-0 by halftime when Larson scored on a 4-yard run just into the second quarter, then he hooked up with Elijah Overton on an 82-yard catch-and-run with 3 seconds left in the half.
Sonny Foote burst in for a 1-yard TD midway through the third quarter for Braham’s next score. Overton finished his big night with a 14-yard scoring run in the third quarter and an 80-yard kickoff return for points early in the fourth quarter.
Braham 40, Hinckley-Fin. 7
First downs 19 9
Rushing 35/186 13/-56
Passing 20/12/0 37/14/2
Passing Yds 252 157
Total Yds 438 99
Bomber Individual Stats: Rushing: Overton 17/104, TD; Foote 10/58; Larson 8/24. Passing: Larson 20/12/0- 252 yds, TD. Receiving: Overton 1/82, TD; Dahlman 4/62; Bone 2/48; Marthaler 2/37; Richmond 3/23. Tackles: Clemmer 6 (sack, safety), Overton 6 (interception), Dahlman 6 (1.5 sacks), Sutton 6, Foote 4.
GPFA Blue Football: FINAL: Braham 5-0, 8-0; Aitkin 4-1, 6-2; Pine City 3-2, 3-5; Crosby-Ironton 2-3, 3-5; Rush City 1-4, 2-6; Hinckey-Fin. 0-5, 1-7.
Section 7A standings: Braham 9-0, Barnum 8-1, Deer River 5-4, Blackduck 4-5, East Central 3-6, Ogilvie 2-7, Walker-Hackensack 1-8, Cook County 0-9.