by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The No. 5 ranked Zimmerman Thunder were almost an upset victim Friday evening, but fended off the Milaca Wolves 21-19 to stay unbeaten.
The Thunder (5-0) stopped a two-point conversion with 1:55 left to stay in front, but were back in jeopardy the final two plays of the game with Milaca (1-4) throwing into the end zone from the 26. The Thunder had just enough left to pull out the win.
“We dodged a bullet,” said Thunder coach Tom Kish. “It was Milaca’s homecoming and they were pretty fired up. We never could get untracked.”
Milaca quarterback Brandon Kiel gave the Thunder fits with his scrambling, and halfback Jonah Gahm made a game of it with an 85-yard touchdown run.
“Milaca had a nice game plan against us,” said Kish, “and they have the best quarterback in the league who gave us some problems. He is lightning fast.”
Zimmerman led 21-13 after Ethan Lunning’s quarterback sneak for a touchdown and Alex MacGregor’s kick with 2:09 left.
However, Gahm broke through the Thunder defense for his 85-yard TD on the second play after the kickoff.
With a chance to tie, Kiel missed a two-point pass under pressure from the Thunder. Milaca tried an onside kick, with Zimmerman recovering at midfield. On fourth down, Zimmerman faked a punt and tried to run for the first down but failed.
Kiel completed two passes, perching his team on the 26, but missed his last two attempts and Zimmerman got back on the bus still unbeaten.
Zimmerman’s other TD’s were a 46-yard pass from Ethan Lunning to Luke Schmit, and Caleb Lunning’s one-yard run.
Brandon Smith had his biggest game as a ballcarrier with 99 yards in 14 carries for the Thunder. Ethan Lunning was 5-for-14 for 118 yards and no interceptions.
Kiel hit 8 of 22 for 97 yards with one touchdown, a 20-yarder to Mitch Hanenburg, and one interception.
Milaca rushed for 193 yards and passed for 97. Zimmerman rushed for 234 and passed for 118.
The Thunder moved up from eighth to fifth in this week’s Class 3A top ten list but didn’t live up to the laurels on this night.
“We missed too many tackles on defense, our offense was inconsistent, and we had some breakdowns on special teams,” said Kish. “We were fortunate to win and must get better if we want a shot at winning the GRC championship.”
St. Cloud Cathedral is the other unbeaten in the conference. The Thunder and Crusaders will meet in the next-to-last game.
Zimmerman 21, Milaca 19
Zimmerman ……. 0 14 0 7 – 21
Milaca …………… 0 13 0 6 – 19
Zim – Luke Schmit 46 pass from Ethan Lunning (Alex MacGregor kick)
Mil – Brandon Kiel 15 run (44 kick)
Mil – Mitch Hanenburg 20 pass from Kiel (kick failed)
Zim – Caleb Lunning 1 run (MacGregor kick)
Zim – E. Lunning 2 run (MacGregor kick)
Mil – Jonah Gahm 85 run (run failed)
Rushing –Brandon Smith 15-102, E. Lunning 14-47, N. Lunning 7-30, C. Lunning 3-11, Evan Bye 3-0, Jeff Mueller 1-1
Passing – E.Lunning 5-14-118-0
Receiving – Schmit 2-65, C.Lunning 2-45, N.Lunning 1-8
Tackles – E.Lunning 9, Jake Antolak 9, Mitch Robinson 8, Tyler Theisen 7, Bye 6, Mueller 6, Schmit 6, N.Lunning 5, C.Lunning 5, Jeremy Sloneker 5
Sacks – Smith 1, Schmit 1, Robinson 1
Blocked punt – Theisen
Passes defended – Bye 2, N.Lunning 1, C.Lunning 1
GRANITE RIDGE CONFERENCE
Zimmerman ……………….. 4-0 5-0
St. Cloud Cathedral ……….. 4-0 5-0
Foley …………………………. 2-1 4-1
Mora ………………………….. 1-2 2-3
Milaca ……………………….. 1-3 1-4
Princeton …………………… 0-3 0-5
Little Falls ………………….. 0-3 0-5
Zimmerman 21, Milaca 19
St. Cloud Cathedral 21, Mora 0
Foley 35, Little Falls 14
Big Lake 38, Princeton 22
Games next Friday
Zimmerman at Fergus Falls
Mora at Milaca
Foley at St. Cloud Cathedral
Little Falls at Princeton