The smell of football is in the air
Local teams got a jump start on football practice on a humid Tuesday in camps and scrimmages around the area.
While the Lakers held their own mini-camp, the Hornets were hosts to Mahnomen, Lake Park-Audubon and Perham in a four-team, half-field, seven-on-seven passing scrimmage.
Looking back at the 2015-16 football season around the area, many of these teams have some big shoes to fill and a few have huge seasons to repeat and try to improve upon.
Rare coaching change in DL
Football in DL sees a changing of the guard at head coach with Flint Motschenbacher retiring directly to the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and 1999 DLHS graduate Josh Omang taking the helm.
Omang’s hire keeps the coaching ranks in file in DL history as he is only the third head coach at Detroit Lakes since 1985 and played for both Rick Manke (1985-1998) and Motschenbacher (1998-2015).
Omang brings metro experience coaching against bigger schools as the defensive coordinator at Class 5A Chanhassen. The Storm reached the section semifinals in 2015 before losing to Chaska. Omang’s coaching history stretches from both of these schools as the defensive coordinator at Chaska 2003-07 and a year as the offensive coordinator during the 2007-08 season, before moving to Chanhassen.
Omang begins his tenure in Detroit Lakes with the luck of inheriting all-district, workhorse running back Ben Nordmark, who enters his junior season already in the school’s top 10 all-time in rushing yards. Nordmark ran for over 1,300 yards last year, sixth best in school history and was 66 yards off the all-time season mark set by Mark Leslie in 1985 (1,427).
For the second straight year, DL was knocked out of the playoffs by Rocori. The Lakers finished with a record of 7-2 and held sole possession of second place to Fergus Falls in the final District Midwest Red standings. The Otters handed DL their first loss of the year at Mollberg Field 14-0 in a renewal of the long-standing rivalry. The teams will meet again this season in week three at Fergus Falls.
Detroit Lakes hits the road to Little Falls for the season opener Thursday, Sept. 1. The Flyers came to Mollberg Field to open last year’s season and gave DL a stiff test in a 21-14 loss to the Lakers. DL needed a late touchdown in the final seven minutes to break a 14-all tie.
Bombers ready to unload on opponents
Head coach Paul Clark has his own luxury in the return of senior Peyton Syverson at quarterback in Waubun. Syverson rewrote the Waubun offensive record book in 2015 leading the Bombers to the state semifinals before falling to the defending nine-man state champions from Grand Meadow.
Since a runner-up finish in 2012, the Superlarks have won three consecutive 9-man state titles and may very likely be in Waubun’s way deep in the playoffs again this season.
The Bombers reached the state final once in school history in 2007 losing to Stephen-Argyle.
Syverson set new marks as the all-time leading scorer, most touchdowns in a season, most rushing yards and most rushing touchdowns in a season breaking previous marks all set by Jesse Lhotka. Syverson will be an instantaneous game-changer on the field and absolute nightmare for opposing defensive units.
The Bombers will need a new target to lead the passing game after the graduation of Darius Woods-Steichen. Waubun was forced to do that late in the season when Woods-Steichen went down with a broken right hand in the section title game.
Waubun’s only loss in 2015 was in the state semis as the Bombers finished 11-1 and won the District 9 West North 2 division with a perfect mark of 5-0. Last year’s section title was the first since the 2007 state run.
Indians mainstays of the state tournament
Head coach John Clark, Jr.’s Mahnomen Indians had a similar plight to the Bombers reaching the state quarterfinals before losing for the first and last time of a 10-1 campaign.
Technically, the Indians got a taste of a big loss in early October when starting quarterback Tom Pavek was injured for the remainder of the season with a broken leg caused by a horsecollar tackle in a blowout victory at New York Mills.
Mahnomen prevailed in four games with Pavek on the sideline but could not match up with quarterback Josh Larson and Braham at Bemidji State University in the state quarters.
Pavek led Mahnomen to the team’s last state championship in 2013 as a sophomore. The Indians never fell short of the state quarters during Pavek’s tenure under center.
Regardless of who the new offensive leader in the huddle is, much of the pressure at quarterback in Mahnomen is typically alleviated by a strong line and punishing run game.
Mahnomen outscored their opponents on average 45-10 in 11 games and that was doing it the kind and respectful way of pulling starters before games got ridiculously out of hand. The Indians easily could have put up 100 points on a number of squads last year and will return in 2016-17 as the team to beat in District Northwest Red and Section 8A.
The Indians open on the road at Pillager Friday, Sept. 2. The Huskies had the displeasure of opening last season at Mahnomen and made the drive home on the losing end of a 53-0 rout.
The Indians look to continue a six-year streak advancing to the state playoffs. The last year Mahnomen did not appear was 2009.
Frazee building off late season momentum
Jim Jacobson’s first year as head coach in Frazee was a seesaw affair that had the Hornets opening the season with five consecutive losses, the fifth a heartbreaking, marathon, six-overtime defeat at home to Osakis 42-36.
The Hornets rebounded with four consecutive victories before a 24-8 section semifinal loss in Sebeka to the eventual section champs United North Central. The Hornets had big hopes in the semifinals having won in Sebeka 19-6 a fortnight prior.
Frazee is two seasons removed from reaching the section final in 2014 losing to a talented Hawley Nuggets squad.
The Hornets broke a streak of losses to Hawley that stretched back to 2003 last season defeating the Nuggets 19-14 in the section quarterfinals on a six-yard game-winning touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Logan Wacker.
Frazee was young last year and lost star running back Tanner Bachmann to graduation, but returns players with needed experience and first-hand knowledge of finding success by not giving up.
Breckenridge handed Frazee the first of five losses to open 2015. The Cowboys come calling Friday, Sept. 2 for Frazee’s home opener. The Hornets begin the year with three of the first four games at home and end the year with a UNC rematch at Fargodome Oct. 20.
Robertson takes over at LP-A
Brian Robertson is the new head coach at Lake Park-Audubon replacing Brad Dunham. Robertson accepted a high school mathematics teaching position and the head football job after school board approval in late June.
Robertson is a North Dakota State University graduate and has eight years of football coaching experience. He was an assistant coach at Barnum for five years and head coach for three. Robertson was out of coaching and teaching in 2015 and wanted to get back into both fields. He and his wife, a Concordia graduate, found jobs nearby each other here in lakes country and the Fargo/Moorhead area where both attended college.
New faces will be in the LP-A backfield as well. The Raiders have graduated senior, starting quarterbacks the past two seasons, Reese Mattson last year and Tim Brekken the prior season.
Last year’s leading rusher Trent Rosing also graduated.
One player to watch is returning leading receiver Mitch Hall. Hall had 680 yards on 32 catches and eight touchdowns last season. He has already looked impressive in scrimmages and should be the main target in the Raider passing game.
LP-A struggled early last year against three tough opponents in Upsala/Swanville, Fosston and Mahnomen. Those three opponents combined to go 26-6. The Raiders three victories in a 3-6 campaign came against Badger/Greenbush-Middle River (0-9), Fertile-Beltrami (2-8) and Red Lake County (3-6).
The Raiders were knocked out of the playoffs in an opening round 21-14 home upset by No. 5-seeded New York Mills (3-7)
LP-A opens the season with the same opponents as last year with the first game in Swanville Friday, Sept. 2.
Jackets look for first playoff win in three years
For the second consecutive season, head coach Kyle Knutson’s Perham Yellowjackets were bumped out of the playoffs at home by a lower seed losing to East Grand Forks in 2014 and to Park Rapids last year.
The Green Wave came into 2014’s first round with only one win during the regular season. Last season, Park Rapids came into the playoffs with only two regular season wins and left Perham with their third on a Jordan Yliniemi touchdown run in the final two minutes for a 34-28 upset.
Perham’s last playoff victory was in 2013 over East Grand Forks and the Yellowjackets last sniff of the state tournament came in 2012 at Metrodome in a 31-21 semifinal loss to Blue Earth Area.
One of Perham’s five losses in 2015 was arguably one of the best games of the season in Minnesota. The Yellowjackets and Lakers played to a 33-32 barnburner finish with DL’s backup quarterback Nick Aguilar hooking up with Jacob Richter to tie the game at 32 on a fourth-down touchdown pass with 35 seconds remaining. Andrew Dahl’s extra point kick was the difference, but only because of the Laker defense.
Perham moved the ball 56 yards to the Laker two-yard line where Dylan Perrine was stuffed as time expired keeping the traveling paddle trophy in Laker hands another season.
This year, the rivalry returns to DL on an even bigger stage with the Jackets invading DL on Homecoming night Oct. 7.
Perham opens the season with back-to-back home games against Hawley and East Grand Forks.
Titans look to get back over .500
Two seasons ago, head coach Dustin Flaten’s Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal Spartans were the talk of 9-man, Section 6 with a last-minute goal line stand semifinal upset of then No. 2-ranked Waubun on the Bomber’s field.
The Titans took that momentum to a section championship victory over Nevis as the No. 5 seed and all the way to the state semifinals before losing to eventual state runners-up Edgerton/Ellsworth in an improbable playoff run.
Last year’s team was unable to conjure up the same magic in a 2-7 season that ended with five consecutive losses and a first round 30-8 playoff defeat at home to rivals Norman County West.
Senior quarterback Brett Braeseth should bring experience to the Titan offense under center and fellow senior Brady Sirjord was the lone junior in a running back by committee, senior-heavy, backfield last year.
NCE/UH travels to Argyle in week one Thursday, Sept. 1 looking to avenge a 40-6 trouncing by the Storm last year in Ulen to begin the year.
Full football season previews will be available in late August prior to the season starting in the Tribune’s annual Football Preview tab.