MAHNOMEN CRUISES INTO SECTION 6-1A CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: A Maroon-and-Gold blitz
As expected, the No. 2 Class 1A ranked Mahnomen Indians are exactly where they wanted to be at the start of the season -- in the Section 6-1A championship game.
After a year of domination, where the Indians outscored their opponents by a hefty scoring margin of 359-34 in the regular season, Mahnomen (10-0) has played its way through the section playoffs to the title game with a 30-14 victory over No. 8 West Central Area in the quarterfinals and a 37-6 win over No. 4 Lake Park-Audubon in the semifinals Saturday.
That now sets up a championship game Friday inside the Fargodome (3 p.m.) against another Class 1A powerhouse, No. 6 ranked Browerville, which boasts a 9-1 record.
"We are similar teams, in that we run the same type of offense and a similar defense," said Mahnomen head coach John Clark Jr. "Their backs maybe a little faster, but I think the team speed is pretty much equal overall.
"I'm expecting a very close game."
Much like Mahnomen, the Tigers have rolled over their opponents all season long. Their only glitch came in a season-opening loss to then No. 4 ranked Barnesville, 25-15.
Since then, they have outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 340-67, including playoff blowouts of New York Mills, 33-0 and Pillager, 56-6.
Defense on both teams has been a mainstay and when they clash Friday, it will be up to each offense to generate some yards, first downs and on through to the end zone.
The Indians' defense has been a group of the nasty hitting, gang-tackling and ball-hawking sort.
"The defense has far exceeded the coaches' expectations," Clark said. "It's a group which has bought into the system and they are athletic and quick. It's just been a mess at the ball and that's the prettiest part about it."
The Mahnomen stat keeper has a rough time determining who actually made the tackle, since there are about five to six Indians on top of the ball carrier when it's all said and done.
"We have a few studs on defense, but it's been the seniors who have improved so much from their junior year and we see that quite a bit here at Mahnomen," Clark said.
The Indians are strong at the point of impact and it starts early on the defensive line, where the ball carrier usually is getting hit behind the line of scrimmage or at it.
Defensive ends Jacob Pavek and Luke Littlewolf have the perfect size (6-2, 6-3) to disrupt the opposing offense back to the middle.
That's where defensive tackle Jake Hedstrom finishes them off.
"Jake reminds me of a mini-John Randle (former All-Pro Minnesota Viking defensive tackle)," Clark said.
"Jake is as good as it gets with his size and motor."
The Indians gave up only five touchdowns during the entire regular season, with two of those coming on kickoff returns.
Even the second and third string defense shuts down opposing offenses.
"There's pressure on our second and third stringers, because they want to keep the shutout going for the first string," Clark said. "We've had an eye on that group for sometime now.
"They make our team that much better, because the scout team is very good in practice, so it gets pretty competitive with the starters."
Opposing teams can't go to sleep on the Mahnomen offense, either. The Indians are a ground-eating machine, led by quarterback Pavek and senior running back Avery Fairbanks.
When a defense focuses on stopping one, the other will be there to pick them up. In more than one game, both have eclipsed the 100-yard mark in one contest.
"The offense compliments our defense very well, because the offense sustains drives and then finish them off with touchdowns," Clark said.
The experience of winning last year's Section championship inside the Fargodome can also be a factor come Friday, as well.
"They've been there and know what it's all about," Clark said of his team's playoff experience. "They know how to prepare for a game like this.
"They've been waiting all season for this one."
Indians learn from flat start
For the first time all season, the Indians allowed two scores in a game, which came in a 30-14 victory over West Central Oct. 25, in Mahnomen.
The Indians also were shutout from the end zone for the first time in the opening quarter, but eventually, Mahnomen started to fire on all cylinders to take a 16-0 halftime lead.
The Knights didn't go down as easily as a No. 8 seed normally would, after they pulled to within a score at 16-8, but Pavek's second touchdown pass to Littlewolf pulled the Indians back to a two-score lead at 24-8.
Dakotah Kashmark scored at the 6:23 mark in the fourth to pull to within 24-14, but a Fairbanks five-yard run with 2:11 left sealed the win at 30-14.
"We came out a little flat and lost three fumbles, which hurt," Clark said. "But you know, this team needed a little adversity and it was good see the kids upset on the sidelines.
"After our film session Monday, I saw how dispirited they were in their performance and they wanted to correct it."
Pavek ran for 121 yards in the victory, while Fairbanks collected 98. The Mahnomen defense did shut WCA down in the rushing department, as they had just 64 yards on the ground.
That led into the semifinals Saturday, where a much more crisp Indian team took to the field, which resulted in a 30-0 halftime lead over No. 4 seeded Lake Park-Audubon.
"The guys came out spirited and we didn't let LP-A get free for any big plays," Clark said. "
The defensive line did a great job making a mess of the line of scrimmage."
They were able to hold LP-A's leading rusher, Chase Zellers to 42 yards on 14 carries for a 3.0 yards per rush average.
On the flip side, Pavek tore apart the Raider defense for four touchdowns -- two through the air and two on the ground -- to pace the Indians.
The quarterback rushed for 113 yards, while tossing for 94 after going 6-11 with no picks.
The Indians limited the potent Raider rushing attack to 73 yards on the ground.
Kickoff Friday is scheduled for 3 p.m. inside the Fargodome, with the Section 6-1A championship on the line.
Section 6-1A semifinals: (4) Lake Park-Audubon at (1)Mahnomen, Saturday, Oct. 29.
Mahnomen 37, Lake Park-Audubon 6
Raiders - 0 0 0 6 -- 6
Indians. - 14 16 7 0 -- 37
Mah: Fairbanks 5-yard run; Pavek pass failed. 7:34, 1st quarter.
Mah: Pavek 3-yard pass to Littlewolf; Pavek run. 3:21, 1st.
Mah: Pavek 15-yard pass to Littlewolf; Hoffner run. 9:33, 2nd.
Mah: Pavek 38-yard run; Haugo run. :44, 2nd.
Mah: Pavek 2-yard run; Pavek kick. 5:54, 3rd.
LPA: Gage 12-yard run; Wixo pass failed. 7:22, 4th.
First Downs 22 9
Net Yards Rushing 309 73
Yards Passing 94 38
No. Passes 11 12
Completed 6 7
Had intercepted 0 1
Plays from line of scrimmage 64 42
Total Yards 403 111
Penalties/yards 6/55 2/10
Fumbles/lost 4/2 2/2
Rushing (att-yds-td) -- Mah: Jacob Pavek 12-113-2; AveryFairbanks 16-87-1; Mitch Kochmann 8-58-0; Tristan Bjerke 6-24-0; Trevor Haugo 3-14-0; Garret Hoffner 8-13-0...LPA: Chase Zeller 14-42-0; Logan Gage 4-32-1; Wyatt Wixo 1-12-0; Tory Haglund 3-1-0; James Kohler 2-(-2)-0; Mason Swegarden 6-(-12)-0.
Passing (comp-att-yds-td-int) -- Mah: Pavek 6-11-94-2-0...LPA: Swegarden 6-11-35-0-1; Tim Brekken 1-1-3-0-0.
Receiving (rec-yds-td) -- Mah: Hoffner 2-28-0; Lucas Littlewolf 2-18-2; Jason Schoenborn 1-32-0; Mitch Kochmann 1-16-0...LPA: Wyatt Wixo 4-32-0; Andrew Erickson 2-3-0; James Kohler 1-3-0.
Section 6-1A quarterfinals: (8) West Central at (1) Mahnomen Tuesday, Oct. 25.
Mahnomen 30, West Central 14
Knights - 0 0 8 6 -- 14
Indians. - 0 16 8 6 -- 30
Mah: Pavek 5-yard run; Pavek run. 7:12, 2nd.
Mah: Pavek 9-yard pass to Hoffner; Pavek pass to Hoffner. 1:12, 2nd.
WCA: Sumstad 3-yard run; Kashmark pass to Grenson. 8:00, 3rd.
Mah: Pavek 14-yard pass to Littlewolf; Pavek run. 4:20, 3rd.
WCA: Kashmark 2-yard run; Kashmark pass failed. 6:23, 4th.
Mah: Fairbanks 5-yard run; Pavek pass failed. 2:11, 4th.
First Downs 28 10
Net Yards Rushing 313 64
Yards Passing 79 162
No. Passes 13 24
Completed 4 13
Had intercepted 1 0
Plays from line of scrimmage 63 60
Total Yards 392 226
Penalties/yards 3/15 6/85
Fumbles/lost 3/3 0/0
Rushing (att-yds-td) -- Mah:Pavek 18-121-1; Fairbanks 17-98-1; Hoffner 8-49-0; Kochmann 7-45-0...WCA: Ethan Supler 6-33-0; Matt Wagner 8-13-0; Daniel Schack 1-6-0; Brady Sumstad 4-6-1; Dakotah Kashmark 12-6-1; Brady Combs 1-2-0; Drew Peterson 4-(-2)-0.
Passing (comp-att-yds-td-int) -- Mah: Pavek 4-13-79-2-1...WCA: Kashmark 13-24-162-0-0.
Receiving (rec-yds-td) -- Mah: Hoffner 2-25-1; Schoenborn 1-40-0; Littlewolf 1-14-1...WCA: Wagner 4-33-0; Peterson 2-26-0; Suplar 2-13-0; No. 6 1-53-0; Calvin Anderson 1-15-0; Royal Crow 1-9-0; No. 77 1-7-0; Alex Anderson 1-6-0.