AITKIN — Jeremiah Smythe called the season as a whole, bumpy.
It was nothing but smooth sailing Friday, Nov. 20, however, as the top-seeded Aitkin Gobblers beat down the No. 4 seed Virginia Blue Devils 56-6 in a Section 7-3A semifinal game at Veteran’s Field.
While other sections changed formats after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz ended the fall sports seasons Wednesday, Nov. 18, to allow the top two seeds to play for section titles, Section 7-3A chose not to.
The decision didn’t sit well with the Gobblers and they wanted to send a statement. Unfortunately for Virginia, they were the messengers as Aitkin rushed for 512 yards and finished with 564 yards of offense.
“I wouldn’t have wanted this season to end any other way,” Smythe said. “I love these guys and we got to kick some butt at home for our last game.”
The Gobblers started early with a 60-yard drive that was capped by an Owen Miller 17-yard touchdown run. Miller finished with 240 yards and four touchdowns.
His second touchdown came on Aitkin’s third possession and went for 67 yards as the senior back followed a caravan of blockers off tackle and then sprinted into the end zone.
“A lot of the sections went with the 1-2 match up, and I’ll be honest, our guys were kind of upset that they didn’t get that opportunity,” Aitkin head coach Alan HIlls said. “Their mindset was they were going to make the team that they played pay for that problem. They did. They just imposed their will tonight. Our offensive line played great tonight. The defense played fantastic as well, but the run game was kind of the same old story with us.
“It was a huge game across the board and I’m just really proud of the guys with how hard they worked all season with all the adversity that they had to deal with.”
After each team traded fumble recoveries, Austin Price then scored for Aitkin from 7-yards out. Price rushed for 91 yards on 19 carries.
After forcing a Virginia punt, Hunter Nissen concluded the first-half scoring with an 11-yard TD run for a 26-0 Gobblers lead.
Nissen rushed for 109 yards on 10 carries.
“It’s great blocking for our backs,” Smythe said. “Owen Miller, and all of our backs, Austin Price and Hunter Nissen they all see the holes really good so we just make them for them.”
Aitkin continued its relentless offensive onslaught to start the third quarter. Miller’s 26-yard TD run capped off an 89-yard, eight-play drive.
Virginia finally answered with a two-play 52-yard drive. Blue Devil quarterback Jack Toman hit Landin McCarty on a 39-yard route and then found Tom Nemanich for a 13-yard TD pass.
It was all Aitkin following as Jake Ince scored on a jet sweep on the Gobblers’ next possession.
“Honestly it’s kind of hard,” Hills said with a laugh. “It’s almost easier when you have that one bell-cow back where you just hang your hat on him. I try to manage and make sure all of our guys are getting their piece of the pie because, with the amount of guys we have, I have five or six guys who deserve way more touches than they get. That’s the one that’s great about this team. They are a team-first type of guys. They don’t care who is getting the accolades. It’s fun to watch.”
Smythe intercepted Toman to stop Virginia’s next drive. It was the third INT for Aitkin and the fourth turnover forced. Jack Grell and Nissen grabbed the picks and Ince recovered a fumble.
Virginia rushed for just 38 yards and was 10-of-24 passing for 153 yards.
“I think we took it as a challenge because it’s not normal in 3A to see a team pass that much,” Smythe said. “We got to show them how it’s a no fly-zone here in Aitkin.”
Miller and Price tallied their final touchdowns of their Gobblers career in the fourth for the final score.
Senior quarterback Caiden Kjelstrom also rushed for 65 yards on six carries and was 4-9 passing for 52 yards.
The victory was Aitkin’s fourth straight and the Gobblers finished the year 6-1 and in Hills’ words the best team in Aitkin for 40 plus years.
“It was bumpy because it was the little things you can’t do with your teammates that changed it and made it harder,” Smythe said. “Together we came out and showed it on the field. We love each other.”
Virginia 0 0 6 0 -- 6
Aitkin 14 12 16 14 -- 56
A-Owen Miller 17 run (Austin Price run) 7:39
A-Miller 67 run (pass failed) 1:32
A-Price 7 run (pass failed) 8:58
A-Hunter Nissen 11 run (run failed) 25.8
A-Miller 26 run (Jaeland Williams pass from Caiden Kjelstrom) 7:51
V-Tom Nemanich 13 pas from Jack Toman (pass failed) 7:30
A-Jake Ince 7 run (Price run) 4:30
A-Miller 4 run (pass failed) 7:26
A-Price run (Price run) :38
Rushes-yards: A 57-512, V 27-38
Pass comp-att-int-yds: A 4-9-2-52, V 10-24-3-153
Total offense: A 68-564, V 51-191
Rushing: A-Austin Price 19-91, Owen Miller 21-240, Hunter Nissen 10-109, Caiden Kjelstrom 6-65, Jake Ince 1-7; V-Jake Burress 1-2, Jack Toman 10-(-10), Nick Peters 5-5, Ryan Scherf 11-41
Passing: A-Kjelstrom 4-9-52 ; V-Toman 10-24-153
Receiving: A-Nissen 1-22, Ince 2-13, Miller 1-17; V-Cote Schaefer 1-15, Mason Carlson 2-47, Peters 3-24, Scherf 2-15, Tom Nemanich 1-13, Landin McCarty 1-39
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.
Aitkin 56, Virginia 6
Key: Aitkin rushed for 512 yards
Overall: A 6-1, V 4-4