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Agates advance with 14-0 win over Esko

Two Harbors senior Steven Keech (52) tackles Esko quarterback Mason Vinje during the Agates 14-0 win in the Section 7AA semifinals Saturday in Duluth. (Jamey Malcomnb/News-Chronicle)1 / 2
Two Harbors senior Joey Marker breaks free from Esko defenders for the game clinching score in the Agates 14-0 win in the Section 7AAA semifinals. (Jamey Malcomb/News-Chronicle)2 / 2

Two Harbors senior Ricky Brenna powered through for a 1-yard touchdown run that broke a 0-0 tie in the fourth quarter as the Agates moved on to its first trip to the Section 7AAA finals since 2014 in a 14-0 win over Esko Saturday, Oct. 27, at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth.

The game was Brenna's second game back after a leg injury forced him to miss all but Two Harbors' first and last games of the regular season. Brenna ended the game as the Agates' leading rusher with 112 yards on 23 attempts.

"It feels really good to get back," Brenna said. "It hurt me a lot for the rest of the season, I wasn't sure if I was going to make it back in time or not. The first half we weren't running the ball so well, we weren't blocking so well and they were taking it to us. In the second half we had a talk with our guys and we really turned it on with the line and we just kept running it down their throats."

Both teams had trouble moving the ball in the first half. The only serious scoring chance was an Agate drive to the Esko 10-yard line in the first quarter, but Ryan Nowacki missed a 30-yard field goal to keep the score locked.

In the second half, Esko took to the air to try and spark some offense. After receiving the second half kickoff, Eskomo quarterback Mason Vinje used swing passes to spread the Two Harbors defense out, then took some shots downfield. The strategy worked early, with Esko driving to the Two Harbors 6-yard line.

The Agate defense stiffened and held Esko on a fourth and one play, where a bad hand-off gave Two Harbors the ball at its own 10. On the next drive, the Agates turned to their bread and butter, the power running game, to drive the ball 90 yards, capped off by Brenna's 1-yard score.

Esko moved the ball again on the ensuing drive, reaching the Agate 24. Vinje, however, was stripped on a quarterback keeper play and the Agates recovered, ending Esko's last serious scoring threat with six minutes left in the game.

"Once again, our defense has been very stout all year," Two Harbors coach Tom Nelson said. "They were tough again today and allowed us to stay in that game and then open it up in the end. They just did a heck of a job there."

Nelson said he and his coaching staff challenged his team in the locker room to play better and open more holes for the running game.

"Offensively, I thought we played poorly," Nelson said. "I thought we were soft, we did not get after them in the first half. At halftime we challenged them a little bit, there might have been a little discussion in the locker room and those guys stepped up. We didn't do anything fancy, it was ground and pound, give it to Ricky and mix it up once in a while. Those linemen blocked and those backs ran their tails off and they just executed."

After forcing Two Harbors to punt, Esko turned the ball back over on downs at the Eskomo 46-yard line. Several plays later, Agate senior Joey Marker broke free on a run up the middle for a 26-yard score to seal the win. It was the second time this season Marker closed the door on Esko. In the teams' first meeting Sept. 7, Marker scored on a similar 19-yard run to secure a 19-12 win for the Agates in Esko.

Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin topped Proctor 22-16, marking the first time since 2011 that neither the Rails nor Esko will play in the Section 7AAA finals. Two Harbors will play the Titans at 7 p.m. Thursday at Malosky Stadium in Duluth.

Box score

Esko 0-0-0-0—0

Two Harbors 0-0-0-14—14

TH — Ricky Brenna 1 run (Ryan Nowacki kick)

TH — Joey Marker 26 run (Nowacki kick)

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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