Turnovers derail Mahnomen's title quest
It was a situation the Mahnomen Indians were not used to being in -- and that was trailing in a game for more than one series.
It was also the way the Indians (13-1) happened to get into another situation which was unlike them, as well, which eventually led to a 35-20 loss to Dawson-Boyd (14-0) in the Class 1A state championship game Friday inside the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
The Indians had an uncharacteristic five turnovers in the loss, with two first-half fumbles being crucial, which helped the Blackjacks to 21 unanswered points for a 21-6 halftime advantage and firm control of the momentum.
Much like it has been all season, the Indians started the game with an impressive, time-consuming scoring drive to go up 6-0.
But after the Blackjacks answered with a scoring drive of their own, a fumble on Mahnomen's next series on the Dawson-Boyd 42 led to a downhill effect for the Indians.
"The turnovers were huge," said Mahnomen head coach John Clark Jr. "We go down and score on our first possession and were moving it on our second one. Turnovers are really a momentum killer and it snowballed on us from there."
A time of adjustment also was needed for Dawson-Boyd's defense, which had not seen the veer offense run like the Indians run it.
"We figured it might take a series or two to adjust to their veer offense," said Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson. "I knew if we didn't make adjustments to it quickly, we wouldn't be state champs."
Dawson-Boyd did slow down the grinding offense of Mahnomen, putting them in more third and longs than not. That led to the Indians converting only 2-7 on third downs heading into their final drive of the game, with the game already decided as the Blackjacks were leading 35-14.
Dawson-Boyd did it by feeding the Indians a little of their own medicine -- with a physical presence.
"We heard all week how physical Mahnomen was, but we wanted to come out and play disciplined football and we wanted to prove we were the most physical team in the state," said senior running back/linebacker Esten Weber. "Right away, they had a nice drive, but after that, we stopped them pretty good."
The Blackjacks employed a versatile offense, led by the rushing of Weber and Justin Lee, who each had 90 yards on the ground.
Mahnomen's dangerous duo of junior quarterback Jacob Pavek and senior running back Avery Fairbanks still were able to pick up their yardage. Pavek finished with 154 yards on 20 carries, while Fairbanks -- who was nursing an injured ankle -- recorded 98 yards of rushing on 25 carries.
Two of the final three of Mahnomen's possessions in the second quarter resulted in tide-turning turnovers, which led to 14 Dawson-Boyd points.
The first came on a fourth and one on the Blackjack 30, as Pavek was stuffed between the tackles to turn the ball over.
Dawson-Boyd sophomore quarterback Joey Lee went to the air, hitting on passes totaling 59 yards with strikes of 19, 20 and 20, while Justin Lee added a 15-yard run around left end.
The series was capped on a five-yard end zone run by Weber.
The second turnover of the second quarter came on a missed exchange between Pavek and Fairbanks, with Dawson-Boyd taking over on the Indians' 33.
The Blackjacks ate up 10 plays, while Justin Lee plunged in from the two on third and goal to put his team up 21-6.
"We had some breakdowns on third and long and they converted them," Clark said. "Their speed was top notch."
The Indians were able to stifle the Blackjacks with a pair of three-and-outs to start the third quarter, while putting a drive in the end zone with an eight-play, 79-yard drive, which saw Pavek run for 35 and hit senior tight end Lucas Littlewolf on a 29-yard strike.
Pavek added a one-yard dive to pull the Indians to within a score at 21-14, after the two-point conversion throw to Littlewolf.
"We knew they were going to score some points, you don't stop an offense which is averaging 40 points a game to nothing, no matter what kind of defense you run," Larson said. "We just wanted to answer back.
That's exactly what Larson's team did, with the decisive drive of the game on the ensuing series, which took nine plays and went 58 yards, as Justin Lee went in from one yard out.
Dawson-Boyd senior Evan Robertson also tied a Prep Bowl record with three interceptions of Pavek in the game. Robertson was a question mark to even play, after sustaining an injury in the semifinal game last week.
"I knew Wednesday I was going to be OK and be able to play," Robertson said. "I have to credit the linemen, because they were pressuring their QB pretty good."
Joey Lee was efficient for the Blackjacks, going 7-10 for 92 yards.
"Joe's been effective and he has been playing at a high level and with a lot of confidence," Larson said about his sophomore quarterback.
The state runner-up finish was Mahnomen's fourth one, to go along with collecting six state titles. Dawson-Boyd won its first-ever state football title in their first trip to the state playoffs.
"I told the kids they have nothing to hang their heads about," Clark said. "They should hold them high.
"We may not be state champions, but these kids sure are champions nonetheless."
Class 1A State Championship game, Metrodome in Minneapolis, Friday, Nov. 25: Mahnomen vs. Dawson-Boyd.
Blackjacks 35, Indians 20
Mahnomen - 6 0 8 6 -- 20
Dawson-Boyd - 7 14 0 14 -- 35
Mah: Avery Fairbanks 1-yard run; Jacob Pavek run failed. 7:01, 1st quarter.
DB: Joey Lee 1-yard run; Easton Popma kick. 4:10, 1st.
DB: Esten Weber 5-yard run; Popma kick. 7:06, 2nd.
DB: Justin Lee 2-yard run; Popma kick. 2:05, 2nd.
Mah: Jacob Pavek 1-yard run; Lucas Littlewolf pass from Pavek. 2:51, 3rd.
DB: Justin Lee 1-yard run; Popma kick. 11:21, 4th.
DB: Weber 18-yard run; Popma kick. 4:02, 4th.
Mah: Pavek 1-yard run; no PAT attempted. 0:00, 4th.
First Downs 15 14
By Rushing 12 9
By passing 2 5
By penalty 1 0
Net Yards Rushing 268 189
No. rushes 51 43
Yards gained 271 207
Yards per rush avg. 5.3 4.4
Net Yards Passing 69 92
No. passes 8 10
Completed 3 7
Incomplete 2 2
Had intercepted 3 1
Total Offensive Plays 59 53
TOTAL NET YARDS 337 281
Kickoffs 3 6
Yards 102 294
Ave. kickoff 34.0 49.0
Kickoffs Returned 5 2
Yards 97 40
Ave. return 19.4 20.0
Fumbles 4 1
Fumbles lost 2 0
Penalties 3 6
Yards 25 42
* * *
Player NR YG YL Net
Jacob Pavek 20 154 1 153
Avery Fairbanks 25 98 2 96
Mitch Kochmann 2 10 0 10
Garrett Hoffner 2 5 0 5
Trevor Haugo 2 4 0 4
Esten Weber 17 90 0 90
Justin Lee 17 90 3 87
Joey Lee 7 27 10 17
Team 1 0 0 0
Nathaniel Huot 1 0 5 (-5)
* * *
Player No Comp Inc Int Yds TD
Pavek 8 3 2 3 69 0
Joey Lee 10 7 2 1 92 0
* * *
Player No. Yds. TD
Hoffner 1 32 0
Lucas Littlewolf 1 29 0
Haugo 1 8 0
Huot 3 40 0
Zach Stelter 3 32 0
Justin Lee 1 20 0
* * *
Player No. Yds. Ave.
Pavek 3 102 34.0
Zach Gritmacker 6 294 49.0
* * *
Player No. Yds. Ave.
Hoffner 4 77 19.25
Kochmann 1 20 20
Huot 1 22 22
Stelter 1 18 18
* * *
Player No. Yds.
Nathan Hanson 1 0
Evan Robertson 3 50
* * *
Player No. Yds. lost
Pavek 1 9