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Fertile-Beltrami blows out Clearbrook-Gonvick, 45-6, behind fast start

Jacob Shames
Crookston Times
Brandon Van Den Einde, Fertile-Beltrami's lone senior starter, ran for 40 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons' 45-6 playoff win over Clearbrook-Gonvick Tuesday.

FERTILE — The Falcons were hungry for a defensive touchdown.

In last Thursday's game at Park Christian, Derek Sorenson picked off a pass and returned it down to the 5-yard line. So the message in Fertile-Beltrami's pregame talk Tuesday night was, according to coach Brian Nelson: "can we please have a pick-six or a scoop-and-score?"

It was Sorenson himself who obliged. Nine minutes into the first quarter, the Falcons jarred the ball loose and it popped straight into the arms of the freshman linebacker. Sorenson sprinted down the sideline: the 20, the 10, the five — and this time, he didn't go down until after he had crossed the goal line.

"We gotta ask for more things, I guess," Nelson laughed.

The other thing Fertile-Beltrami really wanted Tuesday night was a fast start. It got that too. Sorenson's 38-yard fumble return touchdown gave the Falcons a 24-0 lead in the first quarter, and from there, they cruised to a 45-6 win over Clearbrook-Gonvick, opening the Section 6 9-man playoffs at home in dominating fashion.

"Just sticking to what we've really hung our hats on: the run game," Nelson said. "That opens up some passing lanes ... we've really improved in our passing game. And then we've really hung our hats on our defense."

Everything was clicking for Fertile-Beltrami (5-1), just as it was in last Thursday's 38-7 win over Park Christian. The Falcons jumped out to a 38-0 halftime lead in that game, and on Tuesday, they set the tone again. They broke off nine runs for 54 yards on their first series, capping off the drive with an Everett Balstad touchdown four minutes in.

"The opening drive is always the key," said senior running back/linebacker Brandon Van Den Einde. "We start off fast and those quick scores right away, we feed off of that."

On a bitterly cold night which made catching the ball a struggle, Fertile-Beltrami didn't do much passing — it didn't need to. The Falcons ran it 38 times for 241 yards, paced by Balstad's 123 yards and two scores. Van Den Einde chipped in too, with 40 yards and an 11-yard first-quarter touchdown that made it 16-0.

"It started with our linemen," Van Den Einde said. "They came out and they were doing a great job blocking. It all starts with them, and we just feed off their energy. Our backs were running hard and it was just a good all-around game. Everybody was playing well."

After Rylin Petry's two-yard quarterback sneak made it 30-0 seven minutes before halftime, it was time for Fertile-Beltrami's defense to stand up. Clearbrook-Gonvick pieced together its first solid drive, completing two big passes to get into the red zone. But Tyler Stuhaug sacked Kyle Gerlofs for a nine-yard loss and then, picked him off on 4th-and-goal to end the threat.

Balstad raced for a 42-yard touchdown on the Falcons' first play of the second half, ending any semblance of momentum for the Bears and allowing Nelson to rest his starters and get his reserves some playing time.

"We didn't have a lot of JV games this year, so it's a great opportunity for those kids to get better," he said. "They've been to practice day after day, they run the scout offense and defense. It was their turn to get to run some plays, and I thought they did a good job."

The Falcons' backups got a lot of playing time in the second half, with the outcome essentially decided.

The game went to running time shortly after the Bears' lone touchdown, a 31-yard third-quarter strike from Gerlofs to Ty Dyrdahl. But there was still time for one last Falcon score: Kobe Bennefeld punched it in from two yards out with 1:30 to go.

But Bennefeld's score might have been the Falcons' last in a much more unfortunate way.

As COVID-19 cases continue to spike in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz is expected to announce sweeping restrictions Wednesday night. Walz has already acknowledged that high school sports will be affected, with all signs pointing towards a pause or outright cancellation.

So while Fertile-Beltrami's second-stringers and youngsters got their moment, Van Den Einde was still out there, sitting back at free safety. With painful reality in the back of his mind, Nelson wanted to make sure his lone senior got to end his career on the field, if Tuesday does turn out to be the end.

"I hope that doesn't happen," Nelson said. "But whatever decision is made, you gotta go with it."

Van Den Einde echoed his coach's sentiment.

"It's just special even getting to play," he said. "I'm just so happy for that."

UP NEXT: The Falcons, the No. 2 seed in the Section 6 tournament, advanced to earn a rematch against Park Christian (1-4) in the semifinals Saturday, Nov. 21. Clearbrook-Gonvick's season is over at 0-4.

"(Park Christian is) gonna come out hungry," Van Den Einde said. "They got nothing to lose and we got everything to lose. They're gonna come out fast and hard and physical, but we just gotta go out there and every person's gotta do their job every play."

Levi Qualley runs in the 2-point conversion after the game's first touchdown.

BOX SCORE

Fertile-Beltrami 24-6-7-8—45

Clearbrook-Gonvick 0-0-6-0—6

SCORING

8:25 first quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Everett Balstad 6-yard run (Levi Qualley run)

4:57 first quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Brandon Van Den Einde 11-yard run (Everett Balstad run)

3:05 first quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Derek Sorenson 38-yard fumble return (Levi Qualley run)

7:02 second quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Rylin Petry 2-yard run (pass failed)

9:49 third quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Everett Balstad 42-yard run (Rylin Petry kick)

4:51 third quarter (Clearbrook-Gonvick): Ty Dyrdahl 31-yard catch from Kyle Gerlofs (run failed)

1:30 fourth quarter (Fertile-Beltrami): Kobe Bennefeld 2-yard run (Brody Raaen run)

PASSING

  • Fertile-Beltrami: Rylin Petry 2-5, 27 yards
  • Clearbrook-Gonvick: Kyle Gerlofs 6-16-1, 84 yards, 1 touchdown

RUSHING

  • Fertile-Beltrami: Everett Balstad 13-123-2, Brandon Van Den Einde 7-40-1, Derek Sorenson 4-24, Kobe Bennefeld 6-24-1, Nick Hedlund 1-20, Rylin Petry 2-6-1, Levi Qualley 2-3, Brody Raaen 2-2, Team 1-(-1)
  • Clearbrook-Gonvick: Aiden Churness 19-91, Alex Churness 2-5, Logan Westrum 1-1, Jensen Engberg 2-0, Kyle Gerlofs 3-(-16)

RECEIVING

  • Fertile-Beltrami: Ryan Van Den Einde 1-14, Everett Balstad 1-13
  • Clearbrook-Gonvick: Ty Dyrdahl 1-31-1, Jensen Engberg 2-29, Aiden Churness 1-16, Logan Westrum 1-7, Lane Cadreau 1-1

DEFENSIVE

  • Fertile-Beltrami: Brandon Van Den Einde 6 tackles (0.5 TFL), Rylin Petry 3, Tysen Stuhaug 2.5, Tyler Stuhaug 2 (1 INT, 1 sack, 1 FR), Austin Bjerk 1.5, Braden Werpy 1.5, Micah Herbel 1.5 (0.5 TFL), Derek Sorenson 1 (1 FR, 1 TD), Everett Balstad 1 (1 sack, 1 PBU), Kobe Bennefeld 1, Caiden Swenby 0.5, Levi Qualley 0.5 (2 PBU)

MISCELLANEOUS

  • Total yardage: Fertile-Beltrami 268, Clearbrook-Gonvick 168
  • First downs: Fertile-Beltrami 13, Clearbrook-Gonvick 8
  • Third-down conversions: Fertile-Beltrami 3-6, Clearbrook-Gonvick 4-11
  • Fourth-down conversions: Fertile-Beltrami 1-2, Clearbrook-Gonvick 0-4
  • Punting: Fertile-Beltrami 1-31, Clearbrook-Gonvick 2-56
  • Penalties: Fertile-Beltrami 3-15, Clearbrook-Gonvick 3-15
  • Turnovers: Fertile-Beltrami 0, Clearbrook-Gonvick 1 interception, 2 fumbles lost
  • Time of possession: Fertile-Beltrami 23:00, Clearbrook-Gonvick 25:00

The Times welcomes your feedback. You can send any comments or questions to our office at (218) 281-2730 or sports editor Jacob Shames at jshames@crookstontimes.com.

Follow along on Twitter @crookstonsports and @Jacob_Shames for all the latest stories and live game updates.

Everett Balstad tries to stay in bounds down the sideline. Balstad ran for 123 yards on 13 carries, scoring two touchdowns, in the Falcons' 45-6 win.