No. 1 Mountain Iron-Buhl to take on
No. 3 Cherry in Section 7 showdown
by Bryan Zollman
While most teams are gearing up to play under the Friday Night Lights, up in the northern part of the state, two small schools will be competing ion a big game on Thursday in Mountain Iron, Minnesota.
They won’t to travel far to do it. Mountain Iron-Buhl will host Cherry, which is located 10 miles down the road from Buhl.
This is the time of year where teams start to learn more about themselves and identity as having the potential to be a legitimate threat to make a deep playoff run. It’s the time of year when most teams have met at least one other squad of equal or maybe even better size and skill and determined their standing amongst the rest of the field.
For the reigning state champions in 9-man Mountain Iron-Buhl, it will be their first big test of the season. For Cherry, whom the Rangers knocked out of playoff contention last season, it’s a chance not just at revenge, but to prove their 6-0 start makes them a formidable foe to not just Mountain Iron-Buhl, but any other 9-man squad in the state.
Mountain Iron-Buhl is currently ranked No. 1 by the Star Tribune in their weekly poll. Cherry sits at No. 3. Both teams are 6-0 and both teams are very good. In QRF, Cherry is ranked No. 5 (31.1) and Mountain Iron-Buhl is ranked No. 8 (30.2)
Mountain Iron Buhl is coming off a state title in 9-man after defeating Spring Grove 28-25 in one of the better games played at last year’s Prep Bowl. They haven’t skipped a beat this season as they have outscored opponents 393-22.
Led by a strong junior class, the Rangers have dominated on both sides of the ball, averaging 470 yards on offense and creating 19 turnovers in their first six contests.
Junior quarterback Micaden Clines leads the offense with both his arm and his legs. The 5’11”, 180-pounder has 18 touchdown passes and 1,226 yards passing on 55 completions in 81 attempts. His main targets have been senior Colton Gallus and junior Evan Anderson. Gallus leads the Rangers with 19 receptions for 488 yards and eight touchdowns and Anderson has nine catches for 283 yards and seven touchdowns.
Clines is also second on the team in rushing with 404 yards on 38 carries and nine touchdowns. Junior Derik Dahl leads the team with 460 yards on 39 carries and 12 touchdowns.
Dahl is also a leader on defense. The junior 5’10” 170-pounder leads the team with 70 total tackles. Gallus has been brilliant in the secondary with eight interceptions and junior lineman Chris King (6’4”/255) leads the team with five sacks.
But Cherry, ranked No. 3 in 9-man, will be a formidable opponent and may have some vengeance heading into their matchup with the Rangers. The Tigers went 8-2 last season with their only two losses coming at the hands of the Rangers, including a Section 7 loss to end their season.
Like Mountain Iron-Buhl, Cherry has wreaked havoc on their opponents by outscoring them 392-46. And like the Rangers they have done the job on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, two “Noahs” have rushed for more than 800 yards. Quarterback Noah Sundquist has averaged more than 12 yards a rush and has 406 yards on just 33 carries. Noah Asuma is averaging 8.3 yards per carry and has 433 yards on 52 carries.
Like Mountain Iron-Buhl’s offense, the Tigers attack with a two-pronged effort, both on the ground and in the air. Sundquist has completed 45 of 66 passes for 1,138 yards and 22 touchdowns and has yet to throw a pick. Brothers Isaac and Isaiah Asuma have been his main targets with Isaac catching 17 passes for 246 yards and six touchdowns, and Isaiah catching 13 passes for 467 yards and eight scores. Andrew Staples has nine catches and four touchdowns and Carson Brown has five catches, three of them for six points each.
The Tigers have also been outstanding on special teams with three kickoff returns for touchdowns, two by Isaiah Asuma and one by Logan Peterson. Asuma has also returned a punt for a touchdown and has 12 touchdowns overall on the season.
The defensive unit has been stellar as well with six different players combining for 12 interceptions led by Brown with three. Three have been returned for touchdowns, two by Isaac Asuma and one by Sundquist. The defense has also recovered 12 fumbles, including one returned by Sundquist for a touchdown.
Ty Sikkila leads the defense with 46 total tackles. Noah Asuma has 36, Mason Heitzman 34 and Zach Sikkila 33. Staples leads the team with 3.5 sacks and Noah Asuma has chipped in three.
As one can see, both teams appear to be evenly matched. It isn’t too often teams enter a big match up with almost identical amount of points scored (393-392). Both teams have skilled players at key positions, and it may come down to whatever squad is able to make the big stop on defense or create a turnover when desperately needed.
It’s also likely it won’t be the last time these two juggernauts square off. Barring a major upset, they will meet again down the road in the Section 7 playoffs. Cherry will hope to avenge last year’s loss to the reigning champions. The Rangers will look to hold a vice grip on the coveted section championship and look to repeat as the top team in 9-man football.
But the favorite won’t be known until after tonight, when both teams will clash and learn not just what the present holds for them, but what future challenge lies ahead.