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Top-ranked Verndale ends Brandon-Evansville's season behind big day from Gideon Ervasti

The Pirates controlled the game on the ground as they secured the 46-8 win over the Chargers to advance to the Section 4, 9-man championship game.

FullerTitus21.jpg
Titus Fuller

VERNDALE — In the age of quarterbacks, the top-seeded Verndale Pirates showed you don’t even need one.

With senior quarterback Dilan Orlando still on the mend, the undefeated and state’s top-ranked Pirates direct snapped the ball to running backs Gideon Ervasti and Ben Brownlow and then let the offensive line do the rest.

The formula worked as Verndale (9-0) ran past the No. 4 seeded Brandon-Evansville Chargers (5-5) for a 46-8 Section 4, Nine-Man Semifinal victory Saturday, Oct. 30.

“We didn’t have to throw the ball today as we ran the ball really well,” Verndale head coach Mike Mahlen said. “Our offensive line played a heck of a game. Our offensive line and our lead blockers in the backfield, all those guys did a heck of a job today blocking. This was our best effort of the year.

“We talked about that before the game. We knew we weren’t going to be able to throw the ball, but we had to move it on the ground and they did a great job of that.”

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Ervasti finished with 253 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Brownlow added 48 rushing yards before giving way to Hunter Schulke in the second half. Schulke rushed for 32 yards as did wideout Zak Olsson.

In all Verndale rushed for 372 yards on 45 carries. Of those 45 carries, all but 10 went for at least five yards and only one, a last-second kneel down, went for negative yards.

“The offensive line was doing a really good job of blocking,’ Brownlow said. “They were making these huge holes and it was easy to read. It wasn’t really too hard to run because they were doing all the work.

“Because we could run that well, it made it easier for us defensively and it gave us all the confidence we needed to keep marching down the field.”

The first half belonged to Ervasti who gained 171 of his 253 yards in the opening frame. After a B-E punt to start the game, Verndale marched 63 yards on seven plays, highlighted by a 28-yard Ervasti run. Two plays later the senior back scored from 4 yards out.

Verndale’s second possession ended with Ervasti scoring from 12 yards. The 10-play, 80-yard drive was all runs.

The Chargers tried to answer with a 13-play drive, but it stalled at the Verndale 11. Five plays later, Ervasti scored from 39 yards out to make it 24-0 at the half. Ervasti had runs of 18 and 20 yards on the quick drive.

The second half started like the first as Verndale marched 80 yards on seven plays. This time Schulke broke the goal line from 9-yards out to hand Verndale a 30-0 lead.

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The Chargers finally answered on its first possession of the second half. Senior quarterback Titus Fuller scored from a yard out and added the two-point conversion. The 11-play drive was helped with a 13-yard pass from Fuller to John Roers on fourth and 7.

Fuller led the Chargers with 51 yards rushing and was 8-of-18 passing for 56 more yards.

Verndale’s defense held B-E to just 171 yards of offense on 60 plays. The Pirates, despite being one-dimensional, still gained 380 yards.

“The defense played well today, too,” Mahlen said. “We had a couple of miscues, but overall, we really played well on defense. They got a couple of passes on us, but we had a lot of pressure on them all the time when they were throwing..”

B-E’s momentum was short-lived after its touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Olsson sprinted 92 yards to answer and make it 38-8 late in the third quarter.

“The kickoff, we just had the right return called,” Mahlen said. “They kicked it right were wanted them to. We’ve been working on those returns. At the start of the year, we were pretty much middle, middle, middle, but we started working on our left and right returns and that was a big one.”

Special teams played a key role as Brownlow blocked two punts. His second came on the Chargers’ next possession, but Fuller, who is the Chargers’ punter, returned the favor by picking off Orlando three plays later. Fuller finished with two interceptions.

Mahlen said he expected to get a blocked punt. For Brownlow, they were his first-ever blocked punts

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“I just found a hole and tried to get to the ball,” he said. “Special teams were very important. They got us the win.”

The final score came from sophomore Jaden Schulke from 4 yards for the 46-8 final.

Brandon/Evansville 0 0 8 0 -- 8

Verndale 8 16 14 8 -- 46

First quarter

V-Gideon Ervasti 4 run (Zak Olsson run) 7:26

Second quarter

V-Ervasti 12 run (Ervasti run) 10:08

V-Ervasti 39 run (Olsson run) 2:02

Third quarter

V-Hunter Schulke 9 run (run failed) 8:50

BE-Titus Fuller 1 run (Fuller run) 4:19

V-Olsson 92 kickoff return (Schulke run) 4:06

Fourth quarter

V-Jaden Schulke 4 run (Kole Dampha run) 3:09

Team statistics

Rushes-yards: V 45-372, BE 42-115

Pass comp-att-int-yds: V 1-3-2-8, BE 8-18-0-56

Total offense: V 48-380, BE 60-171

Individual leaders

Rushing: V-Gideon Ervasti 19-253, Ben Brownlow 12-48, Zak Olsson 3-32, Hunter Schulke 7-32, Jaden Schulke 2-6, Kole Dampha 1-1, Team 1-(-1); BE-Tyler Bitzan 14-22, Titus Fuller 16-51, Ryland Yeats 8-44, Solomon Wales 2-(-4), Kyler Sletto 2-2

Passing: V-Ervasti 1-2-8, Dilan Orlando 0-1-0; BE-Fuller 8-18-56

Receiving: V-Brandon Greenwaldt 1-8; BE-Philip Simonson 1-5, Stevie Hamilton 2-5, Carter White 2-7, Dezmond White 1-16, John Roers 1-13, Bitzan 1-10

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop .

Verndale 46, Brandon/Evansville 8

Key: Two blocked punts and a 92-yard kickoff return helped Verndale stay perfect

Overall: V 9-0, BE 5-5.

Next: No. 1 Verndale vs. No. 2 Wheaton/Herman-Norcross/No. 3 Hillcrest winner at Fargodome 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 5.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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