GLADSTONE - It's been a long time coming for the Gladstone Braves, but with a few quick bursts they left a long season, and the Gwinn Modeltowners in the dust.
Gladstone won their football opener 49-12 Friday at Marble Athletic Field.
"I'm very happy for the kids, after last year, to start out with a victory like this," said Braves coach Josh Mileski, who watched his team celebrate a victory for the first time since Oct. 23, 2010.
Gladstone lit up the Modeltowners with outstanding special teams play. They blocked a punt and ran two kick returns, and nearly a third, back for a touchdown. Mileski knew his kids were capable of such feats but at the start of the season, it raised his eyebrows.
"This time of year, special teams, without a shadow of a doubt, is one of the things we work on the least, but we do have a few kids that can break them," he said. "So for us to do what we did, is really a credit to those kids. Those kids on special teams are typically the kids that aren't starting on offense and defense."
Justin Pederson ripped an 85-yard return in the third quarter to put the Braves up 35-6 and Justin Jurek put the icing on the cake with one second remaining in the game with a 66-yard return of his own.
Gladstone 49, Gwinn 12
GWINN 0 0 6 6 - 12
GLADSTONE 6 8 14 14 - 49
G - Riley Ballard, 61-yard run, Vuksan kick failed, 0:00
G - Justin Pederson, 21-yard reception from Sam Pouliot, Justin Jurek run, 2:42
G -Riley Ballard, 21-yard touchdown run, Vuksan kick, 11:42
G - Jared Vuksan, 1-yard touchdown run, Vuksan kick, 4:51
GW - Luke Sinnaeve, 4-yard run, 2-point pass fail, 1:07
G - Justin Pederson, 85-yard kick return, Vuksan kick, 0:52
G - Chris Richer, 44-yard fumble return, Vuksan kick, 10:25
GW - Cody Noman, 14-yard run, 2-point pass fail, 0:12
G - Justin Jurek, 66-yard kick return, Vuksan kick, 0:01
Gladstone also had big plays on defense as Blake Ballard delivered a crushing hit on Gwinn star running back Owen DeVooght, forcing a fumble. Chris Richer scooped up the ball and took off 44 yards for a score to put the Braves up 42-6 in the fourth quarter.
"I thought our defensive game was very nice tonight," said Mileski. "Jared Vuksan had a tremendous football game and our defensive line did a great job against big guys."
The fumble was about the only thing that went wrong for DeVooght all game. Gwinn, of course was coming off a rough year of their own after having to cancel their 2011 season after four games due to a lack of available kids. DeVooght came out hungry from the start and racked up 105 yards on 18 carries. In fact there were nine different ball carriers for the Modeltowners as they threw everything they could at Gladstone.
"He's a tough kid, he had a real nice game," said Gwinn coach Darren Sinnaeve of DeVooght. "We had a hard time getting some of the stuff we thought we might get around the edge, but we ran some things that worked."
After the first half, the Modeltowners had to feel good about their play on defense. Gladstone led 14-0 but turned the ball over on their first two possessions, both of which started in Gwinn territory.
"The teams were feeling each other out, which happens in every game, but especially the first game," said Mileski. "We had film on them, they had film on us, but quite honestly (Gwinn) came out with a lot of stuff we didn't necessarily see and thus weren't prepared for. Our kids did a wonderful job of playing on the fly."
Blake Ballard and Jared Vuksan led the way defensively for Gladstone, while Riley Ballard electrified the Braves offense with two nice runs. He racked up 100 yards on seven carries including touchdown runs of 61 and 21 yards.
Quarterback Sam Pouliot was also efficient as he completed five of seven passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Pederson caught two passes, including a 27-yard touchdown reception.
Gladstone's season continues Friday at Bark River-Harris.