Changing Of The Guard
Wolfpack Wraps Up First Merged League Title
CLYMER — With a little over three minutes remaining in Saturday afternoon’s Class D tilt between the state’s top-ranked Clymer/Sherman/Panama Wolfpack and No. 4 Maple Grove, the Red Dragons finally pulled themselves within striking distance.
Shortly after suffering a holding call that brought back a big pass, quarterback Carson Crist marched his team down the field and capped off a crucial drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Ayden Reagle.
Unfortunately that push would be too little too late when, after a missed 2-point conversion, Clymer/Sherman/Panama returned to the field with a 25-20 lead that it would ride to the finish.
The hard-fought win clinched the league title for the Wolfpack, who are a perfect 6-0 on the year, while Maple Grove now sits at 4-2, with both losses coming against Clymer/Sherman/Panama.
“They are an outstanding program, they have a ton of really good players and they are well-coached,” Wolfpack head coach Ty Harper said of Maple Grove. “Any time people start talking about how great you are, that is poison. We talk about, don’t take the rat poison. When everyone is telling you how great you are, and how you need to blow them out by this much or that much … you can’t take that poison. I give our guys an awful lot of credit today, that is the closest game that they’ve been in this year. It was a great job of them overcoming all the adversity that we saw today, I’m proud of them.”
The Wolfpack stretched their lead all the way to 25-0 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter when quarterback Gerrit Hinsdale hit Derek Ecklund with a short pass in Red Dragons territory. Collecting the ball, Ecklund ran over an opposing defender on his way to a 34-yard scamper down the left side to paydirt.
Preceding that catch-and-run the Wolfpack were able to bang home a 24-yard field goal off the foot of Garrett McClelland, while Ecklund began his day with rushing touchdowns from 3 and 1 yards out in the first and second quarters, respectively.
Despite carrying the big lead, Harper’s team had difficulty running out the clock on Maple Grove due to mounting penalty problems in the second half, as the Wolfpack finished with eight flags on the day for 87 yards.
“When you keep asking the defense to make stops and get turnovers, sooner or later guys get tired, and I thought defensively we played really well,” Harper said. “The penalties were a problem. It has just been a recurring issue for us the last three weeks and I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again … if we’re going to get to where we want to get to those have got to be improved.”
Late in the third quarter the Red Dragons broke the shutout when Easton Tanner hit Carson Crist in stride near the middle of the field with a well-thrown ball. The 6-foot-2 senior grabbed that toss and was able to win a foot race to the right pylon on his way to a 63-yard score.
“That was a big momentum builder for us, to be able to move the ball like that in the second half,” Maple Grove coach Justin Hanft said. “We cleaned up a couple of things protection-wise, they were bringing some blitz. (Robert Overton) is probably one of the best linebackers in the section, I don’t care what class, that kid is an animal. We cleaned that up a little bit, picked up our blocks a little bit better in the second half when we were passing the ball.”
Clymer/Sherman/Panama was poised to return fire with another score after the big catch, but Hinsdale forced a throw into the end zone on the ensuing drive that was picked off by Crist.
From there, the Maple Grove senior continued to do his best to lift his team back into contention, hitting Zach Hendrick with a 55-yard touchdown pass to keep things close.
While Maple Grove suffered from defensive miscues throughout their first loss to the Wolfpack, Saturday’s matchup was a different story.
“I thought our defense came to play when we didn’t give them a short field after a turnover or something like that,” Hanft said. “In the first game we didn’t look good on defense at all, so we had to clean some stuff up there.”
Even with the improvement, Clymer/Sherman/Panama finished with 210 rushing yards as Ecklund led the way with 122 yards on 26 carries. Hinsdale ended his afternoon going 17 of 25 for 217 yards, hitting Mitch Hovey five times for 69 yards, Cameron Barmore four times for 41 yards and Ecklund three times for 49 yards.
Maple Grove was held to just 76 rushing yards while Crist’s day included 162 passing yards while going 14 of 22.
In addition to Hovey’s versatility in the passing game, the senior racked up two big sacks in the first half while finishing with six tackles.
“I thought Mitch Hovey was the heartbeat of this team today,” Harper said. “That kid just shows up and balls out. The bigger the game, the better he plays and he played awesome against them the first time. I thought he carried us today.”
NOTES: Overton grabbed nine tackles, including two for a loss, while Steven Ryan had five tackles and forced a fumble. … Jake Tomlinson led Maple Grove with 15 tackles while Tanner and Crist each had 11. … Crist’s 57 yards on nine attempts led the Maple Grove rushing attack.
MAPLE GROVE 0 0 6 14 — 20
CLYMER/SHERMAN/PANAMA 8 10 7 0 — 26
C/S/P–Ecklund 3 run (Fransen pass from Hinsdale)
C/S/P–Ecklund 1 run (McClelland kick)
C/S/P–McClelland 24 field goal
C/S/P–Ecklund 34 pass from Hinsdale (McClelland kick)
MG–Crist 63 pass from Tanner (run failed)
MG–Hendrick 55 pass from Crist (Hendrick pass from Crist)
MG–Reagle 20 pass from Crist (pass failed)