The Cambridge-Isanti football team has been handed no gifts this season.
The Bluejackets played six teams in the regular season, and four of their opponents are ranked among the top teams in the state. When you add in a number of last-second schedule shifts due to COVID-19 issues, well, the road has been anything but smooth.
“I think our 2-4 record is more indicative of who we’ve played this season,” C-I coach Shane Weibel said. “We’ve played four state-ranked teams this season. But our game against Tartan was indicative of what we can do. We can be a good team if we play hard.”
The Bluejackets claimed an impressive 34-27 victory over previously unbeaten Tartan on Thursday, Nov. 12. With just one day to prepare for the team ranked seventh in the state in Class 5A, Cambridge-Isanti rolled to 449 yards of total offense while the defense forced three turnovers.
“This was clearly our best team win this year,” Weibel said. “Give a lot of the credit to our coaches, who came up with a great game plan even though we only had one game to get ready. And give our kids credit for playing hard.”
The star for Cambridge-Isanti was senior tailback Gaven Ziebarth, who carried the ball 23 times for 220 yards and four touchdowns. Every time Tartan scored a touchdown to take the lead, the Bluejackets offense rebounded thanks in part to Ziebarth, who scored on runs of 38 yards in the first quarter, 66 and 3 yards in the second period, and 18 yards in the fourth quarter.
“Running for that many yards and touchdowns obviously is no joke,” Weibel said. “Gaven was grinding it out, and his confidence in our offensive line is starting to show. And when Tartan focused on stopping him, that opened things up for the passing game.”
Ziebarth’s TD run with 9:25 left in the fourth quarter gave the Bluejackets a 26-20 lead, but Tartan scored with 6:36 to play to seize a 27-26 advantage.
“I was really proud of the response of our team after that score,” Weibel said. “We realized we were going to have to run our two-minute drill, and our guys just said, ‘Let’s go do it.’ And they did.”
The game-winning play was a third-down pass by quarterback Connor Braaten to Ziebarth, who rumbled 31 yards for the winning score with just 47 seconds left.
“Gaven obviously was great on offense, but our offensive line deserves credit for the way it played,” Weibel said. “Because of injuries we had to move Luke Olson from left guard to center, and we inserted Josh Carlson at left guard. But our line didn’t miss a beat.
“And Connor Braaten did a great job managing our two-minute drill. I don’t call the plays during the two-minute drill; he calls them, and we trust him.”
Braaten completed 19-of-34 passes for 207 yards. Junior Logan Henderson was his favorite target, catching nine passes for 69 yards. Juniors Andre Hall and Colton Skoglund each grabbed three passes while Ziebarth and senior Aleck Dee each caught two.
Defensively the Bluejackets were led by junior Adam Hamed, whose 10 tackles included nine solo stops. Seniors Rodrigo Mork and Hayden Imker were next with six and five tackles, respectively, while Hall added four tackles and an interception.
“Adam Hamed was just lights-out in this game – he was all over the place,” Weibel said. “Rodrigo Mork and Andre Hall both played really well.
“And while Trent Beseth is a senior on the defensive line whom you may not hear much about, he was really a force in terms of sucking up blockers so his teammates could make tackles.”
The win had a pleasant byproduct for the Bluejackets: It lifted them to the No. 2 seed in the Class 5A Section 7 playoffs. As a result, Cambridge-Isanti will host Coon Rapids on Thursday, Nov. 19, in a 6 p.m. contest at George Larson Field.
“It will be nice to be back at Larson Field for one more game,” Weibel said. “We knew that, if we beat Tartan, we would host that first section game. It was not the focal point of our preparation, but our kids knew it was possible. So give credit to them for making it happen.”
Braham closes regular season with runaway win
Braham also benefited from a five-touchdown performance in its 52-10 home victory over Chisholm on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
Carson Shockman scored five rushing TDs in the contest and ran for 204 yards as the Bombers rumbled for 388 yards of total offense, with 355 of those yards coming on the ground.
“Carson had a special night, and that’s great when it happens to a special player,” Braham coach Shawn Kuhnke said. “But it wasn’t just Carson. Our offensive line opened up some holes for him. And on a couple of his longer runs, he bounced the play to the outside – and if his split ends and slot receivers weren’t blocking downfield, he wouldn’t have been able to score.
“So you have to give credit to everyone on offense for doing their jobs and blocking.”
Braham took control of the game in the first quarter as Shockman scored on runs of 4 and 5 yards while Nate Fiedler added a 7-yard TD run with 4:23 still to play to make the score 24-0.
“We marched down the field and scored, got a three-and-out, scored another touchdown, then got another three-and-out before scoring again,” Kuhnke said. “So we had three touchdowns while they had run just six plays.
“That was a huge momentum swing from the start, and we controlled the game from there.”
Chisholm collected a field goal early in the second quarter, but Shockman added scoring runs of 50 and 20 yards, junior Jonah Johnson tackled a Chisholm ball carrier in the end zone for a safety, and senior quarterback Hayden Lee threw a 26-yard TD toss to sophomore Lyle Nelson to make the score 46-3 at halftime.
Shockman scored his fifth touchdown on a 22-yard run midway through the third quarter to close the book on Braham’s scoring.
Lee backed Shockman’s efforts with 86 rushing yards on 12 carries while completing both of the passes he threw for 33 more yards.
The Bombers defense also was stout, limiting Chisholm to just 69 yards of total offense and minus-29 yards of rushing thanks to 12 tackles for loss.
Senior Jordan Leaf led the Braham defense with 5.5 tackles, while junior Austin Sterling had three tackles for loss among his 4.5 total tackles. Senior Alex Londgren had 2.5 tackles for loss, while Johnson and senior Masyn Londgren each collected a pair of tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“Our front four really controlled the game,” Kuhnke said. “Their quarterback would drop back to pass, but at times he was looking to run the football. Our defensive line used a controlled rush so he couldn’t put his foot down and run when pass plays broke down.
“Jonah Johnson, Alex Londgren, Austin Sterling and Max Londgren really played well on the line, and Masyn Londgren, who split time between the line and linebacker, also played well.”
Braham will take a 2-2 record into the Class A Section 7 tournament, earning the No. 4 seed. The Bombers opened with a home contest against fifth-seeded Barnum on Tuesday, Nov. 17, that was not completed at press time.
“Barnum uses an offense with two tight ends and passes only when it has to,” Kuhnke said. “If we can stop the run, and be stout up front on offense, I like our chances in the game.”
If Braham wins that game, the Bombers advance to the section semifinals and a contest on Saturday, Nov. 21, that probably will pit them against top-seeded Deer River, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season.