MOUNTAIN IRON — The Mesabi Range football team opened its season Saturday with a 61-31 win over Rochester. But while the margin of victory was large, the Norse will have plenty of things to correct heading into practice this week.
The Norsemen wasted no time getting on the scoreboard in their season opener with first-year quarterback Tareq Shaw lighting things up with five passing touchdowns in the first half.
Three of those scores were hauled in by Mario Johnson in the first quarter. The sophomore wide receiver from Kissimmee, Fla., scored twice on receptions from 23 yards out and once on a 58-yard bomb from Shaw.
On the opening drive of the game, the Norse defense came out looking like they have in years past: sharp and effective. Mesabi Range recovered their first fumble of the game just over two minutes into the contest, setting their offense up for success right off the bat.
Mesabi Range completed a four and a half minute, 91-yard drive for their first score with Marcello Holguin bringing down the pass on the two-point conversion to make it 8-0. The offense didn’t get much of a break as the Norse defense recovered a second fumble just two plays into the next Yellowjackets drive.
Mesabi Range only needed 1:07 for their next score with Shaw and Johnson connecting for their second touchdown of the day. The point after kick by freshman Hunter Frahm was good, making it 15-0 with 6:10 to play in the opening quarter.
Rochester could only muster off seven yards on their next offensive possession and the Norse kept their foot on the gas on offense. Taking over from their own 40-yard line, a third-and-eight play saw Shaw hit Johnson one last time for a 58-yard pass that put Mesabi Range up 21-0, still in the first quarter of the season opener.
Right as the first frame turned into the second, the Yellowjackets looked to be getting their act together as Rochester quarterback Dylan VanBoxel connected with Cameron Green on a 32-yard pass for their first score of the contest.
The Norse continued to score at will in the first half, etching their fourth touchdown of the game in as many drives with Shaw hitting Montrellis Wilson for a nine-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-7 after the Frahm PAT.
Rochester responded on the next possession with a 61 yard drive that was capped off by a six yard scoring run from Israel Lozoya, his first of three in the game.
The two teams each went a possession without a score, but the Norsemen were the next to strike after an interception from Kam Greene gave Mesabi excellent field position late in the half at the Rochester 37.
A pass interference call on the Yellowjackets put Mesabi 15 yards closer. Ending the first half with a different quarterback, Norse sophomore Christian Sele tossed one over to Torrey Patterson in the end zone for a 22-yard score that put Mesabi Range up 34-13 by the time the first half ended.
Up big at the half, it looked as if the Norsemen could cruise to a win in their season opener. They lead was relatively unchallenged throughout the second half, but penalties and sloppy execution from both sides made the final two slowed the final two quarters down considerably.
Still the Norse outscored the Yellowjackets 27-18 in the second half after they shifted their offense to a more run-based one, with every score in the last two quarters coming via the ground game.
After a botched punt on the opening Rochester drive, the Norsemen took over on the Yellowjackets five-yard line. Myles Ratliff got the handoff on the first play from scrimmage and punched it in for six points with the point after making it 41-13.
Rochester looked to make a strong march down the field and did exactly that, marching from their own 26 to the Norse 32. Desperate to score, a pass on fourth and six was picked off by Mesabi Range’s Chamar Dumas, who took it back 75 yards for a defensive score. Following the PAT, the Norse led 48-13.
The Yellowjackets came up with a big response, scoring on a 78 yard pass to Lozoya from Jacob Guidry. At the end of the third, Mesabi Range led 48-19.
In the fourth quarter, the Norse were back to their scoring ways, with Ratliff punching in another rushing touchdown from two yards out to make it 55-19. Less than eight minutes left on the clock after his score, it looked as if the game would rap up soon, but both teams had something different in mind.
A five and a half minute, 65 yard drive from Rochester ended with Lozoya picking up his third touchdown of the game, scoring from two yards out.
Mesabi Range hoped to run out the clock with 2:25 to play after the failed two-point conversion. A Yellowjackets timeout spoiled the hopes of that, so the Norse handed the ball off to Hassan Biggus, who ran the ball 89 yards to pay dirt, making it 61-25 with just over a minute to play.
Playing until the final whistle, Rochester added one more score: a 34 yard pass from Cody Hogan to Juan Cerda-Bautista. After the failed pass on the two point conversion, the final score read 61-31 in favor of the Norsemen.
A strong first half led to a sloppy second half, leading Norse head coach Tom Inforzato to describe the game as “a tale of two halves.”
“We didn’t play real well in the second half,” Inforzato said after the game. “The offense stopped clicking. The defense made mistakes. I think some of our youth showed today even though we have a bunch of sophomores on this team.”
Overall, however, Inforzato says he’ll take the win and shift his focus to next week with their game against the two-time defending MCAC champions Northland.
“It’s nice to get a big win but if we don’t execute, other teams will beat us. We’re going to enjoy tonight but now our focus is on Northland and they’ve been our Achilles’ heel the last two years.”
Besides the execution issues on both sides of the ball, the Norse still have a few things to figure out on special teams, but that could be attributed to the early start to the season this year due to one less team in the MCAC.
“We’re still trying to get some spots figured out. Punt team didn’t look bad at times. I think the sloppiness could come from being at camp and on the field a week earlier than normal. It shows that we still need time but it’s nice to come out with a win and beat a strong program that has very strong tradition.”
RCTC 0 13 6 12 — 31
MRC 21 13 14 13 — 61
M: Mario Johnson 23 pass from Tareq Shaw (Marcello Holguin pass good)
M: Johnson 23 pass from Shaw (Hunter Frahm kick good)
M: Johnson 58 pass from Shaw (kick fail)
R: Cameron Green 32 pass from Dylan VanBoxel (kick good)
M: Montrellis Wilson 9 pass from Shaw (kick good)
R: Israel Lozoya 6 run (kick fail)
M: Torrey Patterson 22 pass from Christian Sele (kick fail)
M: Myles Ratliff 6 run (kick good)
M: Chamar Dumas 75 interception return (kick good)
R: Lozoya 78 pass from Jacob Guidry (run fail)
M: Ratliff 2 run (kick good)
R: Lozoya 2 run (run fail)
M: Hassan Biggus 89 run (kick fail)
R: Juan Cerda-Bautista 34 from Cody Hogan (pass fail)