Denfeld News

October 18, 2012
Duluth News Tribune

Realignment ends up hurting Northland prep football rivalry
By Rick Weegman

Grand Rapids coach Tim Botsford left Public Schools Stadium with bittersweet feelings Wednesday night.

On one hand, the Thunderhawks broke through for their first victory of the high school football season — 32-6 over Duluth Denfeld — but on the other hand, it likely was the last time Botsford’s team will play in Duluth.

Due to more conference realignment starting next season, Grand Rapids’ annual games against Denfeld and Duluth East are on permanent hold. Instead, the Thunderhawks will pick up games against Willmar and Alexandria.

“Instead of traveling to Duluth 80 miles one way, we’re going to travel 240 miles to play a game,” Botsford said. “It’s just not right. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and it’s disheartening that we lost our rivals.”

Officials of all three schools were frustrated where they ended up in 2012 — Denfeld and East as members of the tough Mississippi 8 Conference and Grand Rapids as an affiliate of the equally tough Central Lakes Conference.

Denfeld closed the regular season 0-8, including losses to three teams ranked in the current Class AAAAA top 10 poll and another to a team receiving votes; Rapids was 1-7, including losses to unbeaten Moorhead and defending state runners-up Bemidji; and East ended up 2-6, beating only Denfeld and Rapids.

“The Buffalo coach was telling me that within the last 10 years, this was the toughest the conference has been by far,” Denfeld coach Frank Huie said. “I’m not an excuse guy so I’ll just say, ‘It’s a tough conference.’ But I think it’s our job to be tough, too.”

The Hunters found that difficult against Mississippi 8 superpowers, getting outscored 43-5 on average and being shut out three times. The playing field should level off next season when the Mississippi 8 adds up to six teams and splits into large and small divisions. Denfeld is expected to play in the smaller division with schools such as Chisago Lakes Area, North Branch and St. Francis and will lose Moorhead and Bemidji from its nonconference schedule.

“That’s where we belong, with those size schools,” Denfeld activities director Tom Pearson said.

The Greyhounds will remain with the larger schools in the conference, such as a Rogers team that blasted them 56-21 last week.

Grand Rapids will stay with its Central Lakes brethren, which includes defending state champion Rocori and highly regarded Brainerd.

“It’s a tough conference,” Botsford said. “It’s made us a better football team by playing against that type of competition, with the speed, size and strength that we see out there.”

Still, Botsford says it’s not the ideal situation.

“I’m in favor of section scheduling,” he said of a plan that the Minnesota State High School League has mulled over. “If we’re going to get seeded, let’s go head-to-head and play everybody in the section. I wish the State High School League would go ahead and make that decision.”

Austin Wiberg ran for a touchdown and caught another from quarterback Jackson Gessell, but the key play came moments before halftime when Stephen McGee stepped in front of a Matt Klang pass and ran it back for a touchdown to give Grand Rapids a 20-0 lead. Gessell was 11-for-19 passing for 189 yards.

Grand Rapids ................. 6-14-6-6—32
Duluth Denfeld ............... 0-0-6-0—6

GR — Jamison Evans 5 run (kick blocked)
GR — Jackson Gessell 16 run (pass failed)
GR — Stephen McGee Jr. 45 interception return (Evans run)
DD — Connor Behm 24 pass from Matt Klang (run failed)
GR — Austin Wiberg 4 run (run failed)
GR — Wiberg 38 pass from Gessell (kick failed)

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