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Football: Agates set for 'epic battle' against Rails

Two Harbors then-junior Logan Loiselle (88) tackles Procter then-junior John Pioro (14) during a game Oct. 19, 2016 in Proctor. Two Harbors and Proctor will meet in the Section 7AAA semifinals Saturday in Proctor. (News-Chronicle file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)1 / 2
Two Harbors then-junior Chad Nordean (3) runs the ball during a game against Proctor Oct. 19, 2016 in Proctor. Two Harbors and Proctor will meet in the Section 7AAA semifinals Saturday in Proctor. (News-Chronicle file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)2 / 2

Two Harbors stormed its way into the Section 7AAA semifinals for the third straight year with a 68-6 win over an overmatched International Falls team Tuesday in Two Harbors.

The Agates averaged nearly 12 yards per carry against the Broncos, amassing 437 yards on the ground on just 34 attempts. Senior Spencer Ross lead the team with 161 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and a 51-yard touchdown reception.

The win set Two Harbors up for a rematch of last year's regular season finale that saw Proctor's defense hold the Agates running attack in check, holding the Agates under 200 yards of total offense for the first time in 2016 winning 12-0.

Proctor's defense was a problem for the smaller Agate team last year and again this season.

The Rails will have a significant size advantage on defense. Proctor's strength and size moved the Agate offensive line off their blocks last season and bottled up Two Harbors' running attack similar to the game against Esko earlier this season, the Agates' only loss this year.

"They're big, they're fast and they've really hung their hat on their defense," Two Harbors coach Tom Nelson said. "The defense is really the strength of their team. It really just boils down to execution with us. You can overcome so much with execution and the mental belief that you can go out there and be successful and just have that tenacity."

In the 2016 clash, the game came down to just a couple big scoring plays for Proctor. In the second quarter, quarterback John Pioro threw a 58-yard touchdown to John Aase to give Proctor the lead. In the third quarter, Pioro turned the corner and lateraled to Aase on a quarterback option play or the Rails' second score. Aase graduated in the spring, but Pioro returns and will again challenge the Agate defense.

Two Harbors running attack has always been a strength of the team, but this year's defensive unit has proved to be backbone of the 2017 Agate squad. Two Harbors has allowed just 68 points through nine games and has allowed double digit points in just two games, 14 points against Duluth Denfeld and and 13 against Pine City.

Two Harbors senior quarterback Ryan Darsow has thrown several touchdowns in a game a couple of times this season. The receiving threats of Ross and tight ends Logan Loiselle and Steven Keech will make the Rails defense think twice about stacking the box with nine or 10 men.

"This year, it seems like Ryan is really starting to figure it out. We've got some options in receiving and our line is blocking well," Nelson said. "It's a great added element for us and at some point, every team needs to be able to hit them up top with one and we're doing it now and that is just a huge benefit for us."

Nelson knows Two Harbors will be the underdog in the game, but he believes if the Agates execute like they have all season and force a key turnover, this could be the year they advance on to the section final.

"We have nothing to lose," Nelson said. "People don't expect us to go down to win except for us. They have size, speed. They are well-coached and they are the bigger school. There are all these things and I just hope our kids are buying into what we're selling them. They are a good-quality team and it's going to be an epic battle."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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