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by Marlys Kruger
TURTLE LAKE — In the world of football, there have been thousands of games where the winner was decided on the ability of a team to move the ball a single yard. In the case of the game between the Colfax Vikings against Turtle Lake, it was the Vikings inability to move the ball one yard to score a go-ahead touchdown with just over two minutes to go that resulted in an 18-7 loss to the Lakers.
The game was played in Turtle Lake September 15, starting under a sunny sky between what appeared to be two evenly-matched teams in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference. Although the Vikings were 0-2 in conference play, both their losses were to the top two teams in the conference, Boyceville and Spring Valley. The Lakers lost to Boyceville also and had a conference win against Cadott.
Turtle Lake took the opening kickoff to their own 40 yard line and kept the ball on the ground for seven plays before quarterback Walker Korish threw a short pass to Brady Jobe who ran it in for a 15-yard touchdown. The extra point kick was off the mark but it was 6-0 for the Lakers with 8:37 left in the first quarter.
But less than two minutes later, the Vikings changed the score. Starting at their own 32 after the kickoff return by Theo Hovde, the Vikings ran two plays and were facing third and five. Colfax quarterback Zach Hiitola sprinted to the side and found a wide open Hovde down by the goal line. Hiitola heaved the ball and Hovde, who missed the last three games with an injury, gathered it in for a 63-yard score and after Hiitola booted the extra point it was 7-6 for the Vikings with 7:03 on the clock.
The Laker’s kick returner almost changed the score again but Zach Leirmo caught him from behind at the Colfax 26 yard line. The Viking defense has had some pretty big defensive stops this season and they came up with another one when they forced the Lakers to turn it over on downs with help from Drew Buchner nearly intercepting a pass and Eli Ralph knocking another one down. The Vikings offense was not clicking however, as they were called for two penalties, but on fourth down the Lakers were called for their own penalty to give the Vikings a first down. Colfax couldn’t take advantage of it and ended up punting and the teams moved into the second quarter. On first down, Korish found Brandon Wagner for a 16 yard scoring pass but Matt Dachel stuffed the two-point run attempt and it was 12-7 for the Lakers at 11:31 of the second quarter.
If anyone was thinking this was going to turn into a shoot out, they were certainly wrong. The Vikings had trouble moving the ball on the ground and picked up a couple of penalties resulting in punting the ball away two more times before the half was over. But their defense did their job as they recovered a pair of Laker fumbles when they appeared to be driving that helped keep them from scoring and the half ended with the 12-7 Laker lead.
If points were awarded for time of possession, the Vikings would have easily had enough to pull out a win. After Hovde took the second half kickoff to the Viking 22, Colfax used ball control with their offensive line blasting holes for Buchner and Colton Hoffman to run through. Quarterback Hiitola went down with an injury just before the half and Buchner filled in admirably after switching from tailback. Colfax ran the ball 15 times, gaining positive yards on all but one play. After eating up almost 11 minutes in the quarter, it was all for naught as they couldn’t convert on a fourth-down pass attempt deep in Laker territory.
The Viking defense roared once again and halted any Laker progress by defending against three passes. One fell incomplete, Ralph tackled a receiver for a short gain and a pack of Vikings tackled another receiver short of a first down. Colfax now had possession of the ball at their own 28 with around ten and a half minutes left in the game.
Once again Buchner and Hoffman, with help from their offensive linemen, weaved and bullied their way down the field. They gained positive yardage on all but one of their 11 rushing attempts, picking up a pair of first downs. But the Laker defense stiffened and the Vikings were faced with a fourth and seven at their own 42. Colfax coach Joe Beranek decided it was time for a little magic as he called for Buchner to pitch the ball to Hovde who connected on a long pass to Orion Nichols. Nichols was pulled down from behind a few yards short of the goal line but with around five minutes left, the Vikings had a chance to score and also run the clock down. Hoffman blasted to the one yard line, but the Lakers probably had their biggest defensive series of the year when they loaded the box and stopped two running plays up the middle and a fourth-down attempt by Buchner who tried to run around the right side.
Colfax still had a fighting chance with Turtle Lake starting on their one yard line but on a third-down play, Korish caught everyone by surprise as he zipped down the right sideline basically untouched for an 86-yard touchdown with 29 seconds left. The kick was missed again to make the final score 18-7.
The Vikings rushed for 152 yards as a team with Buchner gaining 81 on 18 carries. Hoffman ran for 60 yards on 14 attempts and Hovde added nine yards on three carries. Hiitola completed 1-of-6 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown while Hovde was 1-1 with another TD and Hoffman was 1-1 for 12 yards. Hovde had one reception for 63 yards, Nichols had his only reception for 38 yards and Ralph collected one for 12 yards. Ralph led the defense with eight tackles, Leirmo finished with seven, Buchner six and Grant Paulus four.
The Lakers rushed for 256 total yards with Korish, a senior, running for 207 including his long touchdown run. He also completed 9-of-16 passes with a pair of touchdowns.
The Vikings hope to get everyone healthy again as they play their final four games against conference opponents, starting with a home game against Elmwood-Plum City this Friday night.