This time, Vikings not denied a spot in state
For the last six years, the Pelican Rapids Vikings have been playing in the Section 8-2A championship five times.
Of those five shots for the right to play in the Class 2A state playoffs, this year was the least expected group to punch that elusive ticket.
But like Pelican Rapids head coach Dave Haugen stated, "In sports, nothing has to make sense."
And the 2010 Vikings proved that adage exactly correct.
Despite losing their starting quarterback and running back in the last game of the regular season and having had to start a green first-time varsity QB in sophomore Devin Schell -- the Vikings finally broke through to the state playoffs.
"As far as the general population was concerned, this was the least expected team to make state," said Haugen, who helped guide the Vikings to a state championship in 1997. "In past years, we had some marquee players on some very good teams which didn't make state.
"This year's group definitely went under the radar."
The unranked Vikings were consistent in their wins and losses, by alternating victories and defeats every other week to go 4-4 on the season.
In Pelican Rapids' final game of the regular season, the Vikings lost to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 18-8, after the Rebels dominated the first half and led 18-0 at halftime.
But the Vikings controlled the second half, scoring the only touchdown, which would come back and help Pelican Rapids in the playoffs.
"We peaked at the right time -- in the playoffs," Haugen said.
The Vikings posted shutouts against United North Central in the Section 8-2A quarterfinals and against Bagley in the semifinals.
That resulted in a rematch with D-G-F, which entered the game as heavy favorites.
"I think people thought we were heavy underdogs because D-G-F handled us good in the first half of our first game against them," Haugen added. "But it was a reversal in the second half, so that gave us something to build on."
In that regular season finale, the Vikings were struck with some big losses in starting junior quarterback Casey Bruggeman and starting junior tailback Taylor Budke.
Enter Schell, who had to start his first game in a cold, drenched blizzard in the first round of the playoffs.
Now, Schell's fourth game as the Vikings' starting quarterback will come in the state quarterfinals.
"Devin has done a nice job settling in and has a good mindset now at the quarterback position," Haugen said. "Our rushing game has really been strong, too, which is a credit to our offensive line."
The Vikings offensive line has anchored that rushing attack, keyed by good experience and athleticism.
Seniors Dan Wood, Cody Wahlstrom and Brady Morgan have been big parts of the offensive line, as Tom Gaustad has picked up the slack in the backfield when Budke went down for the season.
The defensive unit also has keyed the section playoff run and that again, is anchored on the line.
The D-line of Wood, Connor Holt, Anwar Sharmake, Luke Halbakken and Tucker Forsgren had controlled the line of scrimmage, which has made the Vikings formidable on defense.
In the Vikings' 17-14 win over D-G-F in the section title game, it came down to kicker Cris Molina's foot, and he delivered a 25-yard field goal late in the game.
Molina was 5-6 in field goal attempts through the season and having a reliable kicker is always a good weapon to have, as Haugen found out.
"When I put Cris out there, I had no doubt he would make the field goal," Haugen said. "The whole unit (Halbakken the long snapper and Bruggeman the holder) are all comfortable with the process.
"It's great to finally have that big difference maker in a section championship game."
The Vikings will again be heavy underdogs inside the Fargodome Friday starting at 8 p.m., as they face No. 7 ranked and undefeated Ottertail Central in the Class 2A quarterfinals.
"They bring everything to the table," Haugen said. "They are a running team, but they can throw the ball effectively, too. I think our defense matches up well with their offense, though, with similar strengths.
"The kids' concentration in this week's practice has been great. I see an extra step in them and I know they realize the special situation they are in."
Underdogs or not, this group of Vikings has already surprised for making it this far. There's no telling what they have in store from here on out.