United North Central won a section title in football for the first time in either Menahga or Sebeka school history when the top-seeded Warriors beat #2 Barnesville 24-16 Friday night at the Fargodome.
“I’m speechless,” said UNC head coach Jeremy Nordick in the hallway outside the locker room after the game.
“The mood of our kids going in to their first title game was actually pretty loose. I felt that we were confident, and we knew that if we played as hard as we could on every play we would be there at the end.
“As far as expectations, we expected to compete and win. We knew about Barnesville. Their athletes, staff and tradition is well known in the area. They've got so much pride in their program and we knew that going in to the game. I am not sure anyone picked us to win because of what they've accomplished, and their tough schedule year after year.
“However, our staff and kids, we all believe in each other and throughout the year we've become a family of 35. We put it all on the line against a great team and got a win.”
The game looked like it got off to a great start for the Warriors as Barnesville fumbled on its first play from scrimmage.
But United North Central was unable to take advantage, going three-and-out.
The Trojans then went on a nine-play, 60-yard drive that ended on a one-yard run by quarterback Ethan Ishaug. Jarred Affield kicked the extra-point to give Barnesville at 7-0 lead with 5:40 to go in the first quarter.
UNC was unable to pick up a first down on its next possession, but the Warriors defense also forced a punt on the Trojans’ next series. The snap went over the punter’s head and was recovered by Barnesville at the 18 yard line.
This time United North Central didn’t waste the opportunity. Five plays later Kirby Hrdlicka scored on a three-yard run. The conversion pass failed, but the Warriors on the board with 11:11 left in the second quarter.
Barnesville responded with a 10-play drive that resulted in a 30-yard field goal by Affield to go ahead 10-6 with 7:02 remaining in the first half.
The Warriors’ next series ended in an interception and after a solid drive by the Trojans that ended on downs, UNC got the ball back at its own 18 yard line with 2:22 left in the half.
United North Central used 10 plays to march deep into Trojans’ territory. With the ball on the 16 yard line, the Warriors would get one last play. Quarterback Tom Tellers whistled a pass into the end zone. The ball ricocheted of his intended receiver Thane Dailey and into the arms of Aaron Hrdlicka. The Warriors were unable to run in the conversion, but UNC had its first lead at 12-10 at halftime.
“As for the TD before half? It was absolutely huge,” Nordick exclaimed. “It was a great, opportunistic play, by a great player. Aaron didn't give up on the play and found himself in a great position to make an unbelievable catch.
“At halftime, we reminded the kids that anyone and everyone had predicted Barnesville to win and move on to state, except the guys in the locker room and the communities supporting us. I am so proud of our people of Menahga and Sebeka coming together as one and rallying around these kids!
“We truly are United North Central and it is because of the efforts of these young guys and their will to win! These kids are a band of brothers and there is nothing that they would not do for each other.
“I guess it is hard to explain, but every game night we are outnumbered and out-sized by our opponents. They do not ever let that bother them, because they've got so much heart and their desire to win is bigger and stronger than anything else.”
UNC opened up a little breathing room midway through the third quarter when Tellers and Aaron Hrdlicka hooked up on the Warriors’ longest scoring play of the season. The 62-yard pass, catch and run made the score 18-10 with 5:53 on the clock. This time United North Central tried to kick the extra-point, but was once again unsuccessful.
Barnesville made things interesting with a 15-yard touchdown run by Josh Tweeton with :04 left in the third quarter. Needing the two-point conversion to tie, the Trojans’ pass was incomplete, leaving the score 18-16.
The Warriors moved the ball on their next drive, but turned the ball over on an interception at the Barnesville 18 yard line.
The Trojans drove back in the opposite direction before eventually punting the ball back to UNC with 4:20 to play in the game.
United North Central then executed a very efficient 77-yard, eight-play drive that was capped by a five-yard run by Tellers. Another failed conversion attempt made the score 24-16, but only 1:34 remained.
Barnesville got the ball back near midfield, but the Warriors’ defense sealed the deal by forcing the Trojans to turn the ball over on downs. That allowed the UNC offense to go into its victory formation for the final two plays of the game.
The Warriors finished with 172 rushing yards and 111 passing. Tellers was 5-of-13 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran the ball 18 times for 110 yards and a score. Kirby Hrdlicka added 53 yards and a TD on 16 carries. Aaron Hrdlicka caught a total of three passes for 100 yards and a pair of scores. Dailey had two receptions for 11 yards.
Defensively, Owen Anderson had eight tackles, including a sack. Kirby Hrdlicka and Tellers each had seven tackles, James Clark and Colt Hanson both had six, Dailey made five while Canton Matson, Lynard Wright and Gerorge Lausten each had four. Matson and Charles Haataja added quarterback sacks for UNC.
United North Central’s opponent for its first-ever state football playoff game will be Moose Lake-willow River, the Section 7AA champions. The Rebels have a Class AA QRF rating of 18, while the Warriors are #13. The game will be played at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 31 in Brainerd.
“Moving on, we have a tough road against a team that has been there, explained Nordick. “They've played in the state tournament the last 10 years. They are a very proud, disciplined group with a ton of tradition. We are very excited about the opportunity and we'll need to give it our best effort for 48 minutes to have a chance to win.”
Finally, Nordick was asked how his team or any team for that matter, can go from zero wins one season to section champions the next.
“Well, for us, it was a number of things really,” Nordick replied. “But to sum it up in the easiest way…hard work. Our kids and staff were tired of being everyone's easy win. This includes sacrifices that we made last season, weights, new structure, attitude, and the kids buying in to it.
“This is the first (football) section title for either school and since we came together in 2006. That is so many years of disappointment and frustration for a lot of people. We are just so proud to hold up that trophy for everyone. It was so overwhelming hearing that ‘thunder’ from the crowd Friday night. We are so thankful for the enthusiasm and the support from our families, friends and fans. This (win) is for both towns, schools and everyone involved in the program. We are all family.”