COLERAINE — When the Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin (G/N-K) football team fell behind 20-0 early in the second half of Friday nigh’s game against a good Hermantown team, the Titans could have packed it in and called it a game.
Instead, G/N-K started playing its best football of the night, shutting down Hermantown’s offense for the rest of the game while the Titans were able to move the ball effectively through the air. Still, the deficit was too big of a hole for the Titans to crawl out of as the Hawks defeated the Titans 20-6 in action at Dixon/Barle Field in Coleraine.
Hermantown won the battle of turnovers in the game, which was crucial, as the Titans committed three turnovers while the Hawks had none. However, Hermantown was able to put points on the board after only one of the turnovers, one that came early in the second half.
Hermantown coach Daryl Illikainen said the fact that G/N-K turned the ball over three times while his team had none was a key to the win.
“If we would have turned the ball over that many times, G/N-K’s a good enough team that they would have made us pay,” said Illikainen. “G/N-K played their hearts out tonight. It was a good battle. In our first game, we dropped the ball four times and if you do that against a good football team, they are going to hurt you.
“G/N-K did a good job. Hats off to their fight. Our guys just kept with it, kept with our game plan and executed well. We had a pretty good first half and we put those points up when we should have. That was kind of key. We probably should have been up 21-0 in the first half but we weren’t, but credit G/N-K’s defense. I thought they made some plays too, and then we kind of skipped a beat a little bit in the second. But I thought it was key getting off to a good start. We marched right down and scored and I thought we controlled the game defensively in the first half and put enough points on the board.”
G/N-K coach Bob Schwartz felt his team didn’t start the game in the right frame of mind, not playing with a lot of confidence.
“We were a little unsure of ourselves, and we didn’t really believe that we were a good football team,” Schwartz said. “I think after they got their nose bloodied a little bit tonight and found out that we could stick with them, the belief just started building. I think we were every bit as good as they were the last two-and-a-half or three quarters.
“Turnovers definitely were the difference in the game. We had a great stop to start the second half, and usually I don’t even have anybody on punt return, but I didn’t want to start inside the five. I thought he (Damon Mesa) would just pick it up, but he won’t make the mistake again. He is a great kid.”
After G/N-K punted on its first possession, Hermantown drove 55 yards for the first points of the game. The touchdown came on a quarterback sneak for a one-yard run by senior Kevin Folman with 3:38 gone in the game. Parker Anderson booted the extra point as Hermantown led 7-0.
The Titans then put together a nice drive on their next possession driving from their own 32 yard line deep into Hermantown territory. A pair of passes to dangerous G/N-K receiver Josh Engle put the Titans on the Hawks’ 23-yard-line, but Hermantown’s Anderson intercepted a Jayden Gangle pass at its own three yard line to thwart the Titan scoring chance.
Hermantown took a 14-0 lead later in the first quarter when it completed a 66-yard drive with Folman sprinting through the G/N-K defense for a 41-yard touchdown run. Anderson’s kick for the extra point was good as the Hawks led 14-0.
There was no more scoring in the first half, with Hermantown putting together the only sustained drive of second quarter. The Hawks had a first and 10 at the G/N-K 12 yard line, but the Titan defense stiffened and Hermantown ultimately turned the ball over on downs.
G/N-K forced Hermantown to punt on its first possession of the third quarter, but the Titans fumbled the kick with Hermantown’s ever-present Anderson recovering at the G/N-K 15. Folman then connected with senior tight end Chad Illikainen on a 11-yard scoring pass as Hermantown led 20-0 with 7:02 left in the third quarter.
But G/N-K was far from finished. The Titans promptly drove 60 yards in under three minutes to put up what turned out to be their only points of the contest. The touchdown came on a 18-yard pass from Gangle to Engle. The pass for the two-point conversion failed as Hermantown led 20-6 with 4:26 left in the third quarter.
“Josh Engle is one of the best receivers up here. This is his third year now and he makes the quarterback look good,” Schwartz said. “Unfortunately he didn’t make a play in the end zone that might have turned the game a little, but he made up for it in the second half.”
Illikainen said his team played well against the run, but praised the athleticism of the Titans’ Engle who he said was tough to stop Friday night.
“You have an athlete like No. 15 (Engle), he is going to make plays,” said Illikainen. “We told our guys at the end that they have to get 22 yards for a first down, and he made a beautiful catch for 18 yards. How do you cover it any better than that, and then he goes up and makes a play. But we stuck with it and our defense played well.”
HHS 14 0 6 0 — 20
G/N-K 0 0 6 0 — 6
H-Kevin Folman 1-yard run (Parker Anderson kick)
H-Kevin Folman 41-yard run (Parker Anderson kick)
H-Chad Illikainen 11-yard pass from Kevin Folman (Kick failed)
G/N-K-Josh Engle 18-yard pass from Jayden Gangle (Pass failed)