Braaten and Sioux dominate TGU, 44-12

TOWNER – The Sioux simply wanted another shot at the Titans. With all-state senior quarterback Hunter Braaten under center, the Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn football team knew it had a serious shot at avenging a regular-season loss to undefeated TGU.

Braaten carved through the host Titans for 329 rushing yards on 29 carries to lead W-N-G to a 44-12 rout in a 9-man quarterfinal Saturday.

“Our line did a really good job,” Braaten said. “They did their jobs this week unlike last time we played ’em (when) we had a rough time blocking. We’ve just been playing better. Ever since that lost against ’em, we’ve been improving day by day.”

W-N-G coach Tom Nesvold’s 100th win also marked the second consecutive season that the Sioux (9-2) avenged a regular-season loss with a playoff win. As a member of Class A, the Sioux lost to Langdon Area-Munich last year in the regular season, but beat the Cardinals in a quarterfinal.

Braaten topped his rushing total of 317 yards in W-N-G’s first-round win last week, a 44-42 comeback win over Grant County-Flasher.

“He’s unbelievable,” TGU coach Scott Thorson said. “Not that he’s not surrounded by good players, but individually, he’s the best player that we’ve faced and the kids knew that coming in, but we still can’t just focus on him. We have to focus on a team and he tore us apart.”

TGU (10-1) went 73 yards on the game’s opening series and junior quarterback Eli Luna found classmate Colter Thorp on a 4-yard pass to take a 6-0 lead. Luna, who completed his first five passes, was stuffed on the 2-point conversion and it was all Braaten from that point.

Less than two minutes later, Braaten scored the first of his three touchdowns on a 9-yard run. The score was set up by a 44-yard run indicative of Braaten’s elusiveness and the Titans’ poor tackling. Braaten slipped all-state lineman Luke Bacon’s grasp in the backfield and rushed up the middle only to be stopped by Luna at the 9-yard line.

Luna fumbled on TGU’s next possession – one of three Titan turnovers – and W-N-G senior Hawkin Smette scored the first of his two 1-yard rushing touchdowns soon after. That touchdown was set up by a 22-yard pass to 6-foot-4 wideout Ethan Miller, who finished with five catches for 81 yards. Miller was an easy target and helped keep the Sioux’s attack balanced as the 5-foot-7 Luna and other considerably shorter defenders proved no match.

“That’s like basketball,” Nesvold said. “They’re at a little bit of a disadvantage. We didn’t take advantage of that in the first half, but we wanted to in the second.”

Braaten capped the first-half scoring with a 65-yard run less than two minutes after Smette’s touchdown. Luna was picked off by junior Chance Kitzman and Braaten nearly returned the favor, but TGU junior Hunter Schell dropped a sure interception.

Braaten dropped back to pass again, waited in the pocket for about three seconds and bolted up the right sideline untouched to lift W-N-G to a 22-6 halftime lead.

“We have a wide array of plays we can run, but we just like to spread it out so I get a chance to run,” Braaten said.

Three more W-N-G touchdowns followed as the Sioux scored all of their points before TGU freshman reserve quarterback Kolter Schell scored from six yards out on the game’s final play. Braaten hooked up with Miller in the back corner of the end zone on a 19-yard strike to open the third quarter. Braaten broke two tackles on a 16-yard TD run later in the quarter after putting W-N-G in the red zone with a 36-yard run.

“We kind of took what they gave us,” Nesvold said. “They kept wanting to take the option away or anything outside and we dumped it up inside the zone. Again, it goes back to our offensive line. We were pulling a lot, we did a lot of cross blocking, we did a lot of downfield blocking. If you watched our receivers, they did the job and that’s what it takes – just a total team effort.”

Luna led the Titans with 99 yards on 18 carries and senior Ethan Bachmeier added 67 yards on five carries.

W-N-G plays Shiloh Christian in a semifinal at 2 p.m. Saturday in Bismarck.