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High School Football: Gobblers end Patriots season in section quarters

The Aitkin Gobblers hosted the Pequot Lakes Patriots in the Section 7-3A Quarterfinals.

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Aitkin Gobbler Zack Ehnstrom is tackled by Pequot Lakes Patriot Cain Colten Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, on the Aitkin High School Field. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

AITKIN — It was as different as you could have asked.

But they were equally as effective.

‘It’ is the way the No. 2 seeded Aitkin Gobblers began each half en route to a 32-0 Section 7-3A Quarterfinal victory over the No. 7 Pequot Lakes Patriots Tuesday, Oct. 26, at Veterans Field.

On the third play from scrimmage, Aitkin’s Zachary MacDonald picked off Pequot quarterback Grant Loge and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion later and the Gobblers opened with an 8-0 lead before their offense ever touched the field.

“Their quads formation (four wide receivers stacked in a bunch on one side of the offensive line) was not in the scouting report,” Aitkin head coach Alan Hills said. “Credit to Pequot and their staff, they have a great staff over there, and they threw something new at us. A lot of credit goes to our kids for being able to adjust on the fly. We have a lot of seniors out there that have played a lot of football and that pick-six to open the game, truthfully might have put it away. You think you have something schemed up and then to have someone jump a wheel route and take it all the way back the other way — that’s demoralizing. That was a great play by Zack MacDonald. You have to give him a lot of credit.”

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In the second half, the Gobblers received the opening kickoff. Ten plays and 67 yards later Carson Kullhem was scoring his second touchdown of the game from 20 yards out. The methodical drive was highlighted by a 27-yard catch by Jaeland Willams.

“That was the difference-maker right there,” Hills said. “Pequot did a nice job because we probably should have had a score right before halftime. We didn’t come away with it and at that point, it’s still a ball game. It’s still just a two-score game. That opening drive, and the two-point conversion we tacked on to it, makes it pretty tough to start mounting a comeback when you feel like you have to go a little deeper into the bag of tricks to try and make something happen.

“That was a huge drive and obviously set the tone for the rest of the game for us.”

Kullhem’s first touchdown came early in the second quarter as he maneuvered his way for a 14-yard scoring run. Kullhem finished with 117 yards on just nine carries. Fellow senior Gus Sanford rushed 23 times for 110 yards. He capped off the scoring in the fourth quarter with a 3-yard score after MacDonald corraled his second interception. Six plays later, Sanford topped off a quick drive highlighted by a 67-yard sprint along the Gobblers’ sidelines by Kullhem.

In all, Aitkin rushed for 330 yards on 48 carries. Aitkin QB Zach Ehnstrom was 2-3 passing for 46 yards.

MacDonald, this time Jackson MacDonald, secured Aitkin’s third pick of Loge. The Pequot QB did throw for 166 yards on 18-of-35 passing. The Patriots tried to spread out the Gobblers defense with a new wrinkle to its offense.

“We thought we would spread them out and throw it because they don’t see that a lot in this district,” Magnuson said. “We had some success throwing it, but you know, we turned it over. Give credit to them. They beat us fair and square. No excuses on our part.”

Early in the second quarter, the Patriots drove to the Gobblers 3, but a false start pushed them back and the drive stalled on the 6.

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“We talked all week that they are a 1-7 team, but they definitely have the feel of an at worst 3-5, 4-4 team,’ Hills said. “They should probably be sitting in the top third of our bracket, not in the bottom. That being said, we were thrilled to get a good opponent. We played Hibbing last week and we didn’t necessarily want to play them again this week. We would have rather have played this game. They’re a good football team. And for us to come out and play like we did is huge for us and it sets the tone, hopefully, for our next game.”

The Patriots were close to preventing the shutout again in the fourth quarter as they drove to the Gobblers’ 11, but an incompletion on fourth and 2 halted that drive.

Aitkin’s defense held Pequot to 239 yards total and just 73 rushing yards.

“We had seven starters out since the beginning of the year, but I don’t want that to be an excuse,” Magnuson said. “We had a lot of kids step up and play and gain varsity experience. It’s hard to see this right now, but all that experience that we just gained with low senior numbers is going to bode pretty well for the Patriots over the next couple of years just because of the amount of playing time. You don’t see that if you have tunnel vision. Coaches that know. They know. We’ll be all right, but this was a tough year.

“We had a lot of adversity. Probably more than most teams face, but they came to play every week and that’s what we asked. They came to compete. We were in a lot of games, but eventually, when you’re not playing with a full deck of cards it’s hard to hold people back. And again, credit to Aitkin. They beat us fair and square.”

Pequot Lakes 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Aitkin 8 8 8 8 -- 32

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First quarter
A-Zackary MacDonald 45 interception return (Gus Sanford run) 11:05
Second quarter
A-Carson Kullhem 14 run (Jacob Williams run) 11:53
Third quarter
A-Kullhem 20 run (Williams run) 7:03
Fourth quarter
A-Sanford 3 run (Nathan Price pass from Sanford) 10:02

Team statistics
Rushes-yards: A 48-330, PL 24-73
Pass comp-att-int-yds: A 2-3-0-46, PL 18-35-3-166
Total offense: A 51-376, PL 59-239

Individual leaders
Rushing: A-Caron Kullhem 9-117, Gus Sanford 23-110, Jacob Williams 8-65, Zach Ehnstrom 3-16, Jackson MacDonald 3-15, Jack Grell 2-7; PL-Caden Nelson 15-59, Grant Loge 5-6, Clay Wolf 3-6, DArby Boelter 1-2
Passing: A-Ehnstrom 2-3-46; PL-Loge 18-35-166
Receiving: A-Jaeland Williams 1-27, Sanford 1-19; PL-Cullen Kratochvil 7-72, Boelter 3-60, Bryar Nordby 4-29, Nelson 2-9, Ryan Hamela 1-0, Jaiden Biley 1-(-4)

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.

Aitkin 32, Pequot Lakes 0

Key: Aitkin rushed for 323 yards and intercepted three passes

Overall: A 7-2, PL 1-8.

Next: No.2 Aitkin hosts No. 3 Two Harbors in Section 7-3A semifinals 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30.

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