Denfeld News

Sept. 2, 2006
Duluth News Tribune

Hunters find redemption in opener
By Rick Weegman

Ian Meagher and Jimmy Schofield ran off the field Friday night with much bigger smiles than they did a year ago after their game against Hermantown.

The Duluth Denfeld defensive backfield duo was on the field when the Hawks drove 97 yards in the final minutes in 2005, scoring the winning touchdown with 2.6 seconds left.

Meagher and Schofield and the rest of the defensive unit that returned this season were determined not to hang their heads again following the season opener. They made up for it Friday with a 22-0 victory at Public Schools Stadium.

"That was more than sickening. We thought we had the game wrapped up," Schofield said of last season's 19-16 loss. "It's been in our minds all week long. We still remember every single play in the back of our minds, what we could have done differently."

What they did differently is pressure the offensive backfield and outplay the Hawks' front line. The Hunters held Hermantown to 84 yards rushing and 136 total yards. Meagher had two of Denfeld's three interceptions.

"We've been thinking about (last year's loss) all season," Meagher said. "We wanted to come out and not let it happen again."

Still, the Hunters' defense had some shaky moments during fall practice. They had a letdown during a scrimmage against Duluth Central.

"The next day we came to practice and had a team meeting," Meagher said. "We decided it wasn't going to happen anymore. We've progressed a lot since then."

Meagher intercepted a Drew LeBlanc pass at the Hunters' 25 with 1 second remaining in the first half to preserve a 6-0 lead. Denfeld drove 65 yards on six plays on the game's opening drive, culminating on T.J. McArthur's 10-yard touchdown pass to Alex Bushey, but netted only one first down the rest of the half.

"We were only down 6-0 at the half, so I thought our defense was playing tough," Hermantown coach Daryl Illikainen said. "But we lost all 11 players on offense (from last season), so we've got a lot of work to do on that side of the ball."

Last year the senior-laden Hawks didn't panic when they fell behind late in the game and were in the shadow of their own goal line. But this time was different.

After forcing a punt, the Hunters turned to their running attack to start the second half. They drove 57 yards on nine plays -- all runs until McArthur found Trent Biese open for a 15-yard scoring pass with 4:01 left in the third quarter. Steve Birman's two-point conversion made it 14-0.

Realizing how few quality offensive chances they were having, the Hawks decided to go for it on fourth-and-two at their own 41 on their next possession. But linebacker Anthony Leone -- another member of that distraught defense that trudged off Hermantown's field a year ago -- stuffed Dan Bullyan for a 2-yard loss.

Denfeld coach Frank Huie remembers that loss as much as his players -- it was his head coaching debut after 23 years as an assistant. He's quick to recall that Hermantown ran 72 plays to 24 in that game. This time the Hawks only had a 52-to-45 edge in plays, but averaged just 2.6 yards per play.

"We have a lot of kids back on defense and they were hungry," Huie said. "We did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage (on defense)."

Meagher intercepted another pass late in the third quarter -- this time by senior Kyle Bolander, who took all of the second-half snaps for Hermantown -- and Ben Karon did likewise to end a drive midway through the fourth.

McArthur then scored on a 2-yard keeper to close the scoring.

"Offensively we got outmanned up front," Illikainen said. "The first game the defense probably will be ahead of the offense. But up front they teed off on us. Physically, I thought we got handled up there."

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