High School Football: Gobblers look to ice the Eskomos

Austin Price.
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For the first time since 1995 the Aitkin Gobblers are playing in a section football final.

The No. 2 seeded Aitkin Gobblers will face No. 1 seeded Esko Eskomos 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, at Malosky Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

“I think this is a team that a lot of people, going into the season within the community, didn’t really have probably super high expectations for,” Aitkin head coach Alan Hills said. “We graduated 14 seniors from the previous year and people immediately assumed that it was going to be a down year or a .500 type of a season. These guys have overcome a lot as far as injuries and things like that are concerned. There is a lot of talent on the field. It’s young talent, but it’s talent nonetheless. They’re playing together as a team. I think this team has come together maybe more so than any other team we’ve had in the past. That’s a big part of it.”

The 6-3 Gobblers have won two straight after losing the regular-season matchup between these two teams 41-14 Oct. 11.

Aitkin knocked off Mora, who is playing in the Section 5-3A title game, 28-20, and then eliminated No. 3 seeded Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin 22-20 to set up Thursday’s rematch.


“We are healthier,” Hills said about the biggest difference between the regular season and postseason games. “Getting Owen Miller back is huge. Carter Dox has been hampered by a foot that seems to be feeling a little better this week.

“We’re somewhere we haven’t been in a long time. There’s a little excitement around the locker room and we have nothing to lose. We are going to go out and just play.”

The Gobblers are averaging 235 rushing yards a game to go with 52 yards in the air. Austin Price is closing in on 1,000 yards for the season. The junior back has 792 yards and five touchdowns on 142 carries for a 5.6 yards-per-carry average. Miller has 533 yards and five TDs on 50 carries and Dox also has five rushing touchdowns and 378 yards on 45 carries.

Kyle Cluff is 39-of-79 passing for 418 yards and five touchdown passes. His top targets have been Jake Ince with 12 receptions and 135 yards and Joe Cummings with five catches for 64 yards.

“As you know as well as everyone else around the area, running is what we do,” Hills said. “We’re a run first type of team. For us, if we don’t establish the ground game it’s going to not help us set up the pass. A lot of our passing game is predicated off of our run. It tightens those defenses up and gives us much better windows if we’re running the ball effectively.

“We certainly have to control the line of scrimmage and get our backs running down hill.”

Kade Hopperstad leads Aitkin’s defense with 72 tackles, four tackles for loss and a sack. Jackson MacDonald has 56 tackles in one less game played.

The Gobblers have picked off 10 passes and recovered eight fumbles.


Esko is averaging 265 yards on the ground and 99 yards passing per game. Quarterback Dylan Vinje is 43-78 for 721 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 471 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Brock House leads Esko with 417 rushing yards on 69 carries and five TDs. Preston Lowe has carried the ball 42 times for 421 yards and four scores.

The Eskomos have picked off 14 passes and recovered four fumbles with two defensive touchdowns.

“Their speed and they are extremely quick,” Hills said about his concerns for stopping Esko. “They run a triple option look out of a shotgun. Their quarterback is a really good athlete and he’s got some good athletes around him as well. That being said, we played them pretty straight in the second half. I don’t think we came out ready to play in the second half.”

This is the first time these two teams have met since the Oct. 11 regular-season game at Aitkin when Esko sophomore football player Jackson Pfister collapsed and later died of a congenital heart disease.

An Aitkin victory would have them playing in the Class 3A State tournament against the winner of Mora and Annandale. That game would be 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, in Brainerd.

Section 7-3A Final


Who: No. 1 seeded Esko (7-2) vs. No. 2 seeded Aitkin (6-3)

Quality Results Formula: Esko (66.1), Aitkin (56.5)

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31

Where: Malosky Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota, Duluth

Last meeting: Esko defeated Aitkin 41-14

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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