MOUNTAIN IRON — Mesabi Range’s defense dominated much of the first half against Vermilion on Saturday, but the Norsemen were leading just 20-14 at intermission.
The Norse defenders showed up big again in the second half with three interceptions and continuous defensive pressure to come away with a 36-14 victory over the rival Ironmen.
The stingy Mesabi Range defense came through in many ways in the win, which had playoff implications. The Norsemen improved to 6-1 and are looking to get a home playoff game. Vermilion, meanwhile, dropped to 1-6 with the loss.
Standout defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu staked Mesabi to a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter after stripping the football from Ironmen quarterback Eli Kouns and recovering it in the end zone.
Midway through the second quarter, defensive back AJ Solomon secured an interception and raced 15 yards for a touchdown, which gave the Norse a 20-6 lead.
The Ironmen came up with their own pick six a short time later. Defensive end Hayden Leach reached up to snare the Noah Lund pass and return it 42 yards for the score that cut the deficit to 20-14 at the half.
In the third quarter, the defense for the home team helped set up a Connor Cusick field goal. The 25-yard field goal came several plays after the defense sniffed out a fake punt attempt, which resulted in an eight-yard loss and Mesabi Range taking over deep in Vermilion Community College territory.
The Ironmen gave the ball back just three plays later on a strip sack and fumble recovery by defensive lineman Shawn Smith. Nineteen yards and four plays later (each Barkley runs) the Norsemen extended their lead to 30-14 on a three-yard Barkley run around left end.
The defensive pressure continued on VCC quarterback Breon Jackson, which forced him into some back throws. Two of those throws were intercepted by Mesabi’s James Smith.
Ahead by 16 heading to the fourth quarter, Mesabi Range was trying to use as much clock as possible. However, Barkley ripped off a big 28-yard run and Torrey Patterson brought it home from there on a 52-yard quarterback keeper for the 36-14 win.
The Norsemen also got a second quarter touchdown from Myles Ratliff.
Vermilion got its other touchdown on a one-yard TD run in the first.
Mesabi Range (6-1) ends the regular season against Western Division power North Dakota State College of Science (6-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Mountain Iron. VCC plays at Minnesota West at 6 p.m. on Friday.
Vermilion 0 14 0 0 — 14
Mesabi 6 14 10 6 — 36
MRC — Sam Okuayinonu fumble recovery in end zone (kick failed)
VCC — Keylan Chapman 1 run (run failed)
MRC — Myles Ratliff 10 run (Cusick kick)
MRC — AJ Solomon 15 interception return (Cusick kick)
VCC — Hayden Leach 42 interception return (Oscar Lopez pass from Breon Jackson)
MRC — Cusick 25 field goal
MRC — Ny’Travious Barkley 3 run (Cusick kick)
MRC — Torrey Patterson 52 run (kick blocked)
Central Lakes 3,
Mesabi Range 0
At Virginia, the Lady Norse put up a fight in game 2, but it wasn’t enough as they fell in straight sets 3-0 (25-17, 26-24, 25-13) to the No. 1 team in the land, Central Lakes.
Haley Hansen and Montana Baker each led the way with nine kills each. Hansen added a block while Baker had 10 digs and an ace serve.
Megan Aho finished the contest with 12 digs, while Tori Johnson added 11 more. Emily Berg had two blocks for Mesabi Range.
With the loss, the Lady Norse fall to 10-8 (6-5 MCAC) on the season. They will be in action again at the Hibbing Triangular on Wednesday, where they’ll take on Hibbing at 5 p.m. and Rainy River at 7 p.m.
International Falls 22,
At International Falls, the Broncos picked up their first home win since 2013 with a 22-6 victory over Eveleth-Gilbert. The Bears (3-4) host Two Harbors in their regular season finale on Wednesday.
At Coleraine, the Titans had a strong showing as they cruised past the Blue Devils 56-22. Virginia (2-5) hosts International Falls on Wednesday in their regular season finale.
Cook County 22,
Mountain Iron-Buhl 0
At Grand Marais, the Vikings (7-0) controlled play in a 22-0 win over the Rangers (5-2) in a Section 7 9-man showdown.
Mountain Iron-Buhl plays at Ogilvie in their regular season finale Wednesday.