FELCH - North Dickinson, making big defensive stops in another stellar offensive showing, spilled North Central 36-20 to clinch the Mid-Eastern Conference football championship Friday at James D. Priestap Memorial Field.
"It was a great game and we hung in there," said Coach Joe Reddinger, whose Nordics trailed 14-6 early in the third quarter. "Sometimes you just get things going your way."
North Dickinson produced 434 yards total offense, with a three-pronged rushing attack going for 350.
Rand Hruska Photo
North Dickinson’s Derek Wagner finds the endzone for one of his three scores Friday. North Central’s Rob Granquist attempts to stop Wagner while the Nordics’ Justin Clark (80) looks on.
"They're a well coached team and a good football team," said Coach Kevin Bellefeuil, his Jets bidding for their first league title since 1993. "There's no shame in losing to North Dickinson."
North Central also put up yards, with quarterback Rob Granquist throwing for 175 and Josh Granquist rushing for 106. Jason Whitens caught six passes for 80 yards.
But the game likely hinged on a defensive stop.
North Central, leading 14-6 midway through the third quarter and driving for another score, wound up with fourth and inches from the Nordic 14. Quarterback Granquist was stuffed on the play and North Dickinson responded with tying touchdown drive.
"That was a great defensive stop," said Reddinger, who suspected Brad Gustafson and Jordan Bosma were in the middle of the pack that thwarted the play. "That was probably the turning point in the game.
"Defensive coordinator Chris Mattson made some great adjustments at halftime with coverage and pressure."
With Granquist taking direct snaps in the spread offense, North Dickinson looked for a quarterback sneak when the junior went under center.
"We just got into a tough spot and came up a little bit short," said Bellefeuil, who thought his team had the necessary yardage on third down. "Then we didn't get the fourth down and that was a real big swing in the game."
North Dickinson scored three straight times in the second half for a 29-14 advantage. North Central closed to 29-20 with three minutes left but a failed two-point conversion kept the difference at nine.
Converted tight end Noah Berg led the Nordic ground game with 140 yards on 16 carries. Derek Wagner tacked on 127, with 65 coming on the game's first series for a score. Matt Schultz had 81 rushing yards.
"We're a lot more potent as a three-back offense," Reddinger noted.
North Central, capitalizing on a Devin Wodrazka pass interception, pulled ahead 8-6 in the first quarter. Rob Granquist flipped a 16-yard pass to freshman Jason Whitens to even the score and a two-point toss to Andre Estrada put the Jets on top.
North Central, leading 8-6 at halftime, moved to 14-6 in the third quarter when Rob Granquist scrambled seven yards to the end zone. Another failed conversion hurt the Jets.
Matt Schultz rushed seven yards and quarterback Logan O'Neil rolled in for the conversion to deadlock the game at 14-14 late in the third quarter.
The Nordics followed with an on-side kick recovered by Jordan Neumann.
"Crucial play," Reddinger noted.
North Dickinson broke the tie on a fourth-down screen pass in the fourth quarter. Faced with fourth-and-eight from the Jets 13, O'Neil lobbed the ball to Wagner for the go-ahead points.
"We don't run that play very good in practice," Reddinger said. "We're horrible, always in such a hurry."
Berg romped 51 yards for a 29-14 Nordic lead with 5:29 remaining. North Central answered with Granquist throwing 11 yards to Estrada. The Jets followed with another missed conversion.
"They hit a couple passes and then Granquist is running wild," Reddinger said of the Jets attack.
With seven seconds left in the game, Wagner ran 24 yards for his third touchdown.
"They had couple big runs when we were overplaying things," Bellefeuil said. "They cut back and did a good job.
"They just keep working it and running it at you, and they don't get frustrated."
Schultz made a team-high 10 tackles and intercepted a pass. Berg and Jonas Christian each had six stops.
North Dickinson (6-1, 5-0) wraps up the regular season next Friday with a home game against Lake Linden. While the Nordics are assured of a 23rd straight trip to the playoffs, the Jets (5-2, 2-1) need another victory for a postseason berth.
"We threw the ball well and had some opportunities," Bellefeuil said. "We played like a young football team. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores out there.
"We need another game to get that magic number six (and make the playoffs. Bark River, that's the next most important game."
North Central 8 0 6 6 - 20
North Dickinson 6 0 8 22 - 36
ND - Derek Wagner 65 run (pass failed), 9:41.
NC - Jason Whitens 16 pass from Rob Granquist (Andrew Estrada from Granquist), 4:33.
NC - Granquist 7 run (pass failed), 9:00.
ND - Matt Schultz 7 run (Logan O'Neil run), 1:07.
ND - Wagner 13 pass from O'Neil (Justin Clark from O'Neil), 8:52.
ND - Berg 51 run (O'Neil kick), 5:29.
NC - Estrada 11 pass from Granquist (pass failed), 3:18.
ND - Wagner 24 run (O'Neil kick), :07.
Total offense - North Dickinson 434 (366 rushing, 68 passing), North Central 313 (138 rushing, 175 passing).
Rushing - ND, Berg 16-140, Schultz 16-81, Wagner 14-127; NC, Josh Granquist 18-106.
Passing - ND, O'Neil 4-7-1, 68; NC, Granquist, 18-35-1, 175.