Area Football: Gobblers take care of business to earn No. 1 seed for playoffs

The Aitkin Gobblers' rushing attack opened up the passing game leading to a 48-26 blowout of the Pine City Dragons.

Aitkin's Owen Miller runs with the ball against Pine City Wednesday, Nov. 11, in Aitkin. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

AITKIN — It would be hard-pressed for the Aitkin Gobblers to be any more prepared for postseason play.

Aitkin used a combination of hard running, explosive passing plays and a stout defense to close out its regular season with a 48-26 thumping of the Pine City Dragons Wednesday, Nov 11, at Veteran’s Field.

“That’s kind of the way we’ve been the last few weeks,” Aitkin head coach Alan Hills said. “We had a bit of a struggle, hiccup efficiency-wise against Moose Lake, but our offensive line does a great job. They are a veteran crew and we have good running backs. When you get the ball rolling that way it’s tough to stop. It opens up the pass. We don’t throw it a lot, but when we do it’s pretty effective typically.

“It was a good day all the way around offensively and the defense did what they do and didn’t give up points. Things go well when that happens.”


Aitkin rattled off 340 yards of offense mostly in the first half to build a 40-6 halftime edge in the Northeast Blue Subdistrict contest.

Owen Miller rushed for all but 15 of his 158 rushing yards in the opening half as the Aitkin starters sat after its opening possession of the second half.

The Gobblers opened with an eight-play, 61-yard drive capped off with a 3-yard Miller TD run.

“The holes were huge,” Miller said. “When we get big runs it’s all the O-line. Obviously, we run and do all that, but it’s up to the offensive line and they do a heck of a job every week. It’s fun to run behind those guys.”

Pine City fumbled away the kickoff leading to an Austin Price 5-yard TD run and a 16-0 Aitkin edge.

The Dragon’s answered with a 9-play drive that was helped with a 15-yard facemask penalty on Aitkin to close out the first quarter.

The second quarter was all Aitkin.


Hunter Nissen concluded a 75-yard drive by Aitkin, highlighted by a 34-yard run from Miller, to make it 24-6.

Aitkin's Hunter Nissen runs with the ball against Pine City Wednesday, Nov. 11, in Aitkin. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Miller scored from a yard out on Aitkin’s next possession for a 32-6 lead,

The Gobblers needed just two plays to score on its next possession. Junior quarterback Caiden Kjelstrom hit Jake Ince on a 45-yard fly route for the 40-6 halftime edge.

Kjelstrom finished 4-6 passing for 70 yards and two TDs.

“We knew we were going to have a whole bunch of experience coming in which really helps,” Miller said. “All of our offensive line is basically seniors. All three running backs are seniors. Just to have all those guys knowing what we’re doing and we have good chemistry. It’s easy to get behind those guys and do good things.

“Plus, you have to respect our passing game. Obviously, people know we’re a running team so you expect that, but then we pull out a pass with a great quarterback who can throw and receivers that can catch so it’s basically unstoppable.”


Just like in the first half, Pine City fumbled away the kickoff to start the second half and Aitkin took advantage with a 9-play, 45-yard drive. This time Kjelstrom hit Joey Simonson for a 10-yard TD pass and running time was in sight.

“We’ve been really good with the ball,” Hills said. “We had a hiccup in Mora and that’s what cost us the game. Ever since we’ve been rock solid. The guys do a great job of taking care of the ball and we’re really taking a lot of pride in what we’re doing. They’re proud to be an Aitkin football player and it’s fun to watch.”

Aitkin's Jackson MacDonald celebrates while running off the field after the defense recovered a fumble against Pine City Wednesday, Nov. 11 in Aitkin. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The Gobblers substituted out its starters and Pine City took advantage. The Dragons’ Jacob Lindahl scored from 18 yards out with 2.8 seconds remaining in the third quarter to make it 48-14.

Those were the only two possessions of a quick third quarter. Aitkin was finally forced to punt to start the fourth and Pine City answered with a 2-yard Jeffrey Carlbom touchdown run.

Jason Thieman concluded the scoring for Pine City with a 5-yard TD run.

Of Pine City’s 240 yards of offense, 180 came in the second half against Aitkin backups.


“We are super confident right now,” Miller said. “We took that loss to Mora earlier this season and it just brought our hard work and confidence up even more. We needed a loss like that to get the team going and now we just kicked butt on a Wednesday night and we’ll roll into the playoffs feeling confident.”

The Gobblers will land the No. 1 seed for the Section 7-3A playoffs and they will also receive a first-round bye. They will get one more home game in the section semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 21.

“This is the most confident team I’ve been around since I’ve been here,” Hills said. “These guys feel good about themselves right now, but they’re not overlooking anybody. They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder. They’ve got that edge and their goal was the state tournament. That’s not something that’s in the cards this year, but our goal is to go out and get a section championship.”

Aitkin's Owen Miller (11) runs with the ball as teammate Jack Ince (7) blocks against Pine City Wednesday, Nov. 11, in Aitkin. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Pine City 6 0 8 12 -- 26
Aitkin 16 24 8 0 -- 48


First quarter
A-Owen Miller 3 run (Austin Price run) 9:01
A-Price 5 run (Caiden Kjelstrom run) 6:15
PC-George Ausmus 6 pass from Jimmy Lindblom (run failed) 2:05

Second quarter
A-Hunter Nissen 4 run (Joey Simonson pass from Kjelstrom) 10:43
A-Miller 1 run (Miller run) 5:51
A-Jake Ince 45 pass from Kjelstrom (Price run) 2:55

Third quarter
A-Simonson 10 pass from Kjelstrom (Alex Palm run) 6:44
PC-Jacob Lindahl 18 run (Jeffrey Carlbom pass from Lindblom) 2.8

Fourth quarter
PC-Carlbom 3 run (pass failed) 8:31
PC-Jason Thieman 5 run (pass failed) 2:15


Team statistics
Rushes-yards: A 43-270, PC 38-220
Pass comp-att-int-yds: A 4-7-0-70, PC 3-4-25
Total offense: A 50-340, PC 42-245

Individual leaders
Rushing: A-Owen Miller 16-158, Austin Price 10-61, Hunter Nissen 4-15, Caiden Kjelstrom 1-10, Tanner Nissen 3-6, Zach Ehnstrom 1-(-1), Alex Palm 3-7, Jacob Williams 5-28; PC-Jacob Lindahl 8-47, Hunter Peacock 6-19, Timmy Johson 8-48, Jason Thieman 1-5, Jeffrey Carlbom 3-12, Jimmy Lindblom 3-11, George Ausmus 2-48, Ryan Plasek 6-30, Jace Preseton 1-0
Passing: A-Kjelstrom 4-6-70, Ehnstrom 0-1-0; PC-Lindblom 3-4-25
Receiving: A-Hunter Nissen 2-15, Jake Ince 1-45, Joey Simonson 1-10; PC-Ausmus 1-6, Lindahl 1-6, Daniel Rike 1-13

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at

Aitkin 48, Pine City 26

Key: Aitkin gained 340 yards of offense and built a 40-6 halftime edge

Overall: A 5-1, PC 2-4

Next: Aitkin in Section 7-3A semifinals at high seed Saturday, Nov. 21.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads