AITKIN - Not rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor the Aitkin Gobblers could deny the Crosby-Ironton Rangers their first perfect regular season since 1973.
Even with the Great Polar Football Alliance title wrapped up, and the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Section 6-2A playoffs in hand, the Rangers still jumped out early and often against the rival Gobblers for a 40-14 victory Wednesday.
"The kids worked incredibly hard this season," said Ranger head coach Mike Gindorff. "They understood the schemes and what we're trying to do. My hats off to the seniors. The leadership that we have is unbelievable."
Mark Hoge of Crosby-Ironton zipped past the Aitkin Gobblers to return a punt 78 yards for a touchdown on a snowy Wednesday. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The 8-0 Rangers rushed for 175 yards and threw for 150 yards for 325 total offensive yards. That doesn't include Mark Hoge's 75-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave the Rangers a 20-0 second-quarter lead.
C-I quarterback Phil Kuhlmann scored the Rangers' first touchdown on a 2-yard keeper. Nathan Hudrlik powered C-I's second score from a yard out.
Hoge scored his second touchdown of the half on a halfback pass from Matthew Hudrlik as time expired. The play covered 42 yards as Hoge snuck through three Aitkin defensive backs to find the end zone and give the Rangers a 26-0 halftime edge.
"We never did anything we practiced all week," said Aitkin coach Scott Miller. "We had a game plan. We were looking to double up on Hoge and we had pretty solid defense everywhere else. They have so many weapons, though. You can try and take away two of them and they have about three or four others.
"They're an explosive team. They're well-coached and they knew what they were supposed to do."
Crosby-Ironton 40, Aitkin 14
The key: The Rangers jumped out to build a 26-0 halftime edge
Conf: C-I 5-0, A 1-4
Overall: C-I 8-0, A 2-6
Next: C-I hosts Wadena-Deer Creek in Section 6-2A quarterfinals 7 p.m. Tuesday; Aitkin at Pine City in Section 7-3A quarterfinals 7 p.m. Tuesday.
C-I came out in the second half and on its first possession Kuhlmann found Alex Bundy for a 21-yard touchdown pass. Kuhlmann finished 4-of-9 for 108 yards passing. He also scored two rushing touchdowns. His second came 3:57 in the fourth and gave C-I its 40 points. It's the third time this season C-I has scored 40 or more points.
"During warmups we just asked Phil if he could throw it and he said 'Yes,'" said Gindorff. "He said as long as the ball was dry we'll be fine. We were able to connect early in the game and Alex Bundy made a couple of real nice catches. Mark is always going to draw extra coverage and that helps us a lot."
Aitkin's first possession of the second half was its best of the game. The Gobblers traveled 64 yards on 14 plays. The drive was capped off with Andrew Welshons hitting Dalton Stevens in the end zone for a 16-yard scoring pass.
Welshons threw for 85 yards on 9 of 14 passing. He also rushed for 92 yards, including a 56-yard scoring scamper that finished the scoring.
"It was execution," said Miller. "We didn't try to do anything that we hadn't worked on all week. Based on the first half it looked like we hadn't practiced all week.
"We just did what we were supposed to do in that second half. That was our game plan. We wanted to eat up a lot of clock and try and keep it out of their hands and execute. Unfortunately we failed in the first half, but we did better in the second half."
C-I's defense held Aitkin to 203 yards, with 110 coming on the scoring drive and Welshons' touchdown run.
"Our game plan was to keep Welshons in check," said Gindorff. "He's an explosive, strong kid. We also had to keep Sam Johnson in check. That was our goal to keep those guys downs and force Aitkin to do things they're not comfortable doing.
"Our kids were just flying to the ball tonight. They were trying to force turnovers and make things happen. Aitkin had played some teams in our conference pretty tough. They had our attention. There is no doubt about that."
The Rangers had eight goals this season: Finish each week 1-0.
Crosby-Ironton 12 14 8 6 - 40
Aitkin 0 0 6 8 - 14
CI-Phil Kuhlmann 2 run (kick failed) 5:56
CI-Nathan Hudrlik 1 run (pass failed) 1:17
CI-Mark Hoge 75 punt return (Kuhlmann run) 9:22
CI-Hoge 42 pass from Matthew Hudrlik (run failed) 0.0
CI-Alex Bundy 21 pass from Kuhlmann (run failed) 8:43
A-Dalton Stevens 16 pass from Andrew Welshons (pass failed) 59.8
CI-Kuhlmann 4 run (kick failed) 3:57
A-Welshons 56 run (Welshons run) 1;09
Rushes-yards: CI 33-175, A 34-118
Pass comp-att-int-yards: CI 5-10-0-150, A 9-14-0-85
Total offense: CI 43-325, A 48-203
Rushing: CI-Matthew Hudrlik 8-39, Nathan Hudrlik 11-80, Phil Kuhlmann 9-22, Logan Patrick 4-31, Tyler Heinlin 1-3; A-Andrew Welshons 18-92, Sam Johnson 11-10, Curt Croatt 1-1, Anthony White 2-16, Dalton Stevens 2-(-1)
Passing: CI-Kuhlmann 4-9-108, M. Hudrlik 1-1-42, A-Welshons 9-14-85
Receiving: CI-Mark Hoge 2-58, Justin Edmundson 1-37, Alex Bundy 2-55; A- White 1-12, Johnson 4-25, Nick Sundholm 1-11, Bryan Zenke 1-5, Sam Gravel 1-16, Stevens 1-16
2008: C-I 34, Aitkin 13
2007: Aitkin 27, C-I 12
2006: Aitkin 19, C-I 6
2005: Aitkin 25, C-I 8
2004: C-I 21, Aitkin 6
2003: C-I 13, Aitkin 0
2002: Aitkin 22, C-I 3
2001: C-I 20, Aitkin 13
2000: C-I 62, Aitkin 20
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5856.
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