Fridley defeats North in game between the state’s best

Photos by Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald Minneapolis North receiver Rio Sanders (2) catches a 20-yard touchdown in the second period as Fridley’s Zach Gotsch and Anthony Borum defend.

The stands were packed last Friday evening at Minneapolis North High School for the host Polars’ football game against Fridley, and for good reason.

Fridley won 28-21, but there was also a stadium dedication and an inspiring message from state senator and North alumnus Bobby Joe Champion, not to mention a game between two of the state’s top football teams, ending with the 28-21 Fridley victory.

It was a great game.

Both defensive units dominated the first quarter, keeping one another scoreless by the end of the opening period.

Fridley was led by defensive backs Devin Williams, Zachary Dotsch, Jose Vargas and Dylan Starck; linebackers Kerome Thompson and Guinahi Douche; and defensive linemen Jaxson Ellestad, Tayjion Lee, Marquis Anderson, Daniel Pobuda and Romero Henry.

North countered with the defensive unit of linebackers Moziah Thomas, Cashmere Hamilton Grumu, and Khalil Brown; defensive linemen Gani Stevens, AuVon Sager, Jeremiah Sims and Chester Watley; and defensive backs Willie Wilson, Jahiem Abdullah, Kameron Clay and Jaivon Hill.

Williams led Fridley with eight tackles. Both teams got things going the second period.

The offensive line, consisting of Lee, Ellestad, Pobuda, Ezra Diedrich and Zack Lamont, paved the way for Gotsch to score on an 11-yard touchdown for the visiting Tigers.

The Polars responded with two scores of their own as linemen Anthony Harrell, Azrie Yeager, Jisiah Walker, Donta Kanatzer and Jeremiah Sims provided enough protection for quarterback Deshaun Hill to connect with Rio Sanders (20 yards) and Zashon Rich (23 yards), giving them a 14-7 halftime lead.

 The teams exchanged scores in the third period. De’Meiko Anderson caught Hill’s third touchdown pass of the game to make it 21-7.

Quarterback MJ Newton’s six-yard touchdown run with about a minute remaining in the quarter proved to be a momentum changer. Not only did the score make it a 21-14 ballgame, but it also seemed to energize Newton.

Photos by Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald Fridley quarterback MJ Newton attempts to escape the grasp of Minneapolis North defensive end Gani Stevens.

The junior ran for two more touchdowns in the final quarter, including a game-winning 56-yard run with a minute remaining, leading to victory. Newton finished with 240 yards rushing and averaged 13.3 per carry along with three touchdowns.

North running back Jaylon Washington led North with 116 yards rushing.

It was quite the game with two of the state’s top coaches. North Coach Charles Adams III has led the Polars to the state playoffs since 2014, including a Class A state title in 2016.

Justin Reese has been the head coach at Fridley since 2015 and led the Tigers to the state playoffs in 2020. He was recently named the 2020 Coach of the Year by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association.

 As I was leaving the game, I ran into former Minneapolis Central and North football coach Richard Robinson and had a short but informative conversation with him. Robinson was recently enshrined into the MFCA Hall of Fame.

Not a bad way to enjoy a Friday evening.