GRANTSBURG—The Grantsburg Pirates football team wrote another page in the GHS football history books on Friday when they defeated the Unity Eagles 31-6 to win the North Lakeland Conference championship. This makes it a 3-peat for the Pirates as they win their third straight undefeated conference crown. They have not lost a regular season game since October of 2014.
The stands were packed with football fans excited to watch the two powerhouse teams battle it out on the field. The Eagles came into the game undefeated in conference play, and with only one loss on the season to a non-conference Spring Valley squad. Both teams boast two D1 college recruits — Grantsburg’s tag team Chenal brothers in John and Leo, and Unity’s Cody Ince and Logan Hendrickson. It was set up to be a high school football fan’s dream game.
“It was a total team effort and we had contributions across the board and in all three phases of the game,” Pirates coach Adam Hale said. “Special teams was the key early as we capitalized with a touchdown on Unity’s bad punt snap and then came right back and Jared VanWatermuelen executed the onside kick to perfection and finished it off by making a big field goal with pressure right in his face. Having that early lead was big along with too many offensive mistakes, makes it nice to be able to hand off to John Chenal and let him run. Against a very good Unity defense, he still managed to break tackles and get so many yards after contact. With their defense and big play capability, Unity has the potential to be a very dangerous playoff team in D6.”
Unity received the opening kick, but it was a short turn on offense and the Pirates’ smothering defense was able to force the punt. The Eagles fumbled the ball on a bad snap on their punt attempt, giving the Pirates the ball on the 22-yard line. Just two plays later John Chenal runs it in from 17 yards out for the first score of the night. The point after by Jared VanWatermuelen was good to give the Pirates a 7-0 lead with 9:23 left in the first quarter.
Grantsburg caught the Eagles off guard on the kickoff when VanWatermuelen executed the perfect onside kick and Gabe Chenal recovered the ball to put the hometown boys back on offense. They weren’t able to find the endzone on this possession, but got on the scoreboard nonetheless with a 25-yard field goal by VanWatermuelen to make it a 10-0 game.
Unity was able to stop the Pirates from scoring the rest of the first half, and had themselves lined up to get some points themselves before the break. The Eagles made a drive late in the second quarter, and with :54 left in the half found themselves with first-and-goal on the one-yard line with all three of their time outs left.
But the stingy Pirate defense had a different plan, and on first down they stuffed Unity’s runningback Anthony Carlson at the one-yard line. On their second attempt, the QB fumbled the snap but was able to recover the ball on the 15-yard line. On third down-and-goal to go from the 15-yard line, Grantsburg’s Tyler Stevens bust through the line to chase down Unity’s Hunter Pederson and Stevens along with Tanner Berger get the sack back at the 22-yard line. The Eagles use their last time-out to stop the clock at :02 with one last try to get the score. On fourth and goal from the 22, they launch a pass to the back of the end zone but are unable to connect.
The Pirates seize all the momentum after the big stop and head to the locker room with a 10-0 lead.
“Defensively for us, Coach Dennis Hale once again did a terrific job getting the guys ready for Unity and kept them from getting anything going,” the coach noted. “Leo Chenal is improving each week and was all over the field and led us in tackles. I also thought Bryce Roufs had a great night on both sides of the ball.”
Grantsburg added 14 points in the third quarter. The first score came with 7:14 on the clock, on fourth and one, John Chenal found paydirt from 15 yards out. The PAT was good to give the Pirates a 17-0 lead.
They struck again with 4:18 left in the quarter when Luke Anderson found a wide open John Chenal in the back of the endzone for the score. VanWatermuelen’s kick was good to make it a 24-0 game.
On the Eagles’ first offensive play Pederson’s pass was deflected and Reed Arnold interecepted to give the ball back to the Pirates. But they were unable to take advantage of the opportunity and add any points to their score.
Unity finally got on the board with 3:07 left in the game when Carlson ran it in from 15 yards out. The two-point conversion failed, making it 24-6.
The Pirates put the final nail in the coffin when John Chenal took it 69 yards for the score of the game. The PAT was good to end the scoring at 31-6.
Grantsburg tallied 334 total yards of offense while holding Unity to just 133.
John Chenal had 247 rushing yards on 29 carries. Leo Chenal carried the ball four times for 19 yards, and had three catches for 30 total yards. Bryce Roufs ran hard with six carries for 17 yards, and had a big catch for 21 yards.
Defensively, Leo Chenal was all over the field having a huge night with 13 solo tackles and two assists. Gabe Chenal made big plays racking up 10 assists and one solo tackle. John Chenal had five solos and four assists, and Roufs had three solos with five assists.
The Pirates now head into playoff action beginning Friday night. Despite being ranked in Division 6 all season, when the qualifying teams were sorted, Grantsburg was bumped up to Division 5. They received the No. 1 seed in their region and will host the No. 8 seed St. Croix Falls on Friday night. Game time is 7 p.m. Friday’s winner will face the winner of the No. 4 Cumberland vs No. 5 Durand game. (See brackets on page 21)
“Now with the playoffs, you really have to throw the records and seeds out at this point, especially when playing a conference foe like St. Croix. Coach Belisle always has his guys ready to play at a high level and we will have to play well to advance,” Hale added.