Grafton finds success in 1A football

Esgar Rios

GRAFTON, N.D. -- After switching from Class AA to the smaller-school Class A football division this season, Grafton High School is off to a 3-1 start.

For Spoilers coach David Muhonen, there is no looking back, no wondering if Grafton would have similar success if it was still in Class AA.

“I don’t think about it,’’ Muhonen said of Class AA ball. “For us, being in 1A just seems more natural. We’re playing teams we play in other sports. Our numbers are more equal to other teams we’re playing now. And I certainly don’t miss all the traveling in AA. It just feels like a better fit.’’

Not to mention more successful results.

Grafton hasn’t finished a season with a winning record since going 6-4 in 2014. Its three wins already match the high season-ending win total for any of the past four seasons.


“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by our record,’’ Muhonen said. “I’m maybe a little surprised by the caliber of play we’ve had. We had a lot of young kids who had to step in. They’ve played well.’’

Grafton has only four seniors on its roster. Only two of them, lineman Sabas Galvan and cornerback Liam Perez, start.

Other than taking its lumps in a 47-0 loss to Hillsboro-Central Valley -- the top-ranked team in the state in Class AA -- Grafton has had success behind defense and its running game.

All three wins have been low-scoring games -- 16-6 against Fargo Oak Grove, 6-0 against Carrington and 18-0 against Bottineau.

Leading the defense is Esgar Rios, an outside linebacker who was second team all-state as a freshman last season, and the line of Galvan, Justin Garza, Eli Lopez and Jose Sanchez.

Rios has a team-high 35 solo tackles, while Garza has been a disrupter with three sacks and four tackles for loss.

“Esgar has picked up where he left off last year,’’ Muhonen said. “He’s going sideline to sideline making plays. He leads us in tackles ever game. Eli has been a force on the line. He takes on double teams almost every game.’’

Damon Reyes has two 100-yard rushing games and paces the offense with 412 rushing yards, followed by Rios with 241. Guards Julio Espinoza and Augustin Obregon anchor the blocking unit.


“We ask a lot of our guards,’’ Muhonen said. “They do a lot of pulling. They’ve opened up a lot of things for our offense. The three times we’ve won, we’ve averaged almost 300 yards rushing. That’s definitely been our strength. We’ve moved the ball, but we’ve had a hard time sustaining drives.’’

For the Spoilers, there has been a lot of growth since the team went 1-8 last season.

“A lot of these kids, especially on the line, got a lot of playing time last year,’’ Muhonen said. “They were getting pushed around. They made a commitment to the weight room in the offseason and it’s showing.

“The kids are bigger, stronger, more athletic. We’re more than holding our own.’’

Grafton at a glance

Record: 3-1.

Rushing leaders: Damon Reyes 49-412, Esgar Rios 32-241

Tackle leaders: Rios 35, Kody Keeley 16, Liam Perez 12, Reyes 12, Eli Lopez 10, Justin Garza 10.

Sack leaders: Garza 3, Rios 2


Tackles for loss leaders: Keeley 5, Garza 4, Rios 3, Riley Eide 2

Interception leader: Landon Woinarowicz 3

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