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Howie: Hawks won’t stumble against Grand Rapids tonight

Hermantown looks to improve to 4-0 with a Northeast Red high school football victory against Grand Rapids at 6 p.m. today at natural-turfed Corey Veech Memorial Field in Hermantown.

“We’re expecting another tough game against a good Rapids team that features several skill players on both sides of the ball,” Hawks coach Mike Zagelmeyer said Thursday night.

Grand Rapids (1-2) runs an option offense, a scheme the Hawks have yet to defend this season.

Last season, The Thunderhawks defeated the Hawks 24-6 in Grand Rapids.

“It was the first loss in a five-game losing streak,” Zagelmeyer said of the humbling, confidence-shattering loss.

Hermantown and Grand Rapids have no common opponents this season. The Hawks’ wins are against Moose Lake-Willow River 27-13, North Branch 16-6 and, last week, Duluth Denfeld 14-8.

Grand Rapids snapped a two-game losing streak with a 19-14 victory over Proctor at home last Friday night. Thunderhawks losses were against Mora 26-14 in their 2018 home opener and 13-8 at Hibbing.

Zagelmeyer said the Thunderhawks feature “a good quarterback and a top halfback.”

In practices this week, the Hawks have focused on stopping the Thunderhawks’ well-oiled offense and improving their own running game.

Hermantown and Cloquet sit atop the Northeast Red at 3-0, with Duluth East and Hibbing at 2-1.

The Hawks have relied on a stingy defense and timely big plays by senior halfbacks Elliott Peterson and David Cornelius, and senior quarterback Tate Hansen.

Senior offensive guard Dalton Plaistad continues to play like a man against boys, Zagelmeyer said.

Zagelmeyer, sizing up the Hawks after three games:

“We’ve been really good at most positions, but we must remain healthy. Our offensive play-makers have stepped up, but we can run the ball better. We’ve battled against some good defenses again this season. I like the way our defense has played. Overall, as a team, we’ve learned that we can handle adversity. In the Moose Lake-Willow River victory, our players developed trust in the new system, the coaching staff. Against North Branch, we learned that we can play physical. And in last week’s win against Denfeld, we learned that we can play from behind and win.

“Defense was the key to our win against North Branch, when our defensive tackles played really well and didn’t cave down, allowing our ends and linebacker to fill the holes. I think our guys were surprised how physical a game it was, how nip-and-tuck it was the whole game.

“We didn’t know what to expect against Denfeld. I felt like our defense was a little tired because the time of possession was about 3-to 1 against us, and we had a few three-and-outs on offense. But overall, I thought we played well. That last winning play, when Nate connected with Elliott, I’m sure the kids will remember it for the rest of their lifetimes. It was just another big-time play by skilled athletes. Our line held long enough for Tate to connect with Elliott, who ran a hitch-and-go that the Denfeld defender bit on. Elliott was smart and turned it up the field, making the catch with the free safety coming over. The humidity was tough for both teams, and it was like one of those Rocky fights with both teams throwing haymakers.”

Zagelmeyer praised Plaistad, who also shines at defensive tackle:

“He runs sideline to sideline, running down sweeps and his engine never stops. Same with Reese Fish, who’s always bustin’ his tail. It’s fun to watch them both on film. David and Elliott are getting a lot of press, and deservedly so, but Dalton and Reese have been outstanding, big-time contributors for us.”