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Indians add another chapter to strong tradition

THE INDIANS' SUCCESS has been anchored on the offensive line and the play of the backfield. The offensive line includes (L to R) Joe Starkey, Tyler Coleman, Alex Greene, Andy Kresbach and Darrin Littlewolf. (Not pictured - Kyle Robinson). The Mahnomen rushing attack is headed by quarterback Dylan Stevens and running back Alex LaVoy.

Mahnomen senior running back Alex LaVoy knows all about the Indian football team's strong tradition, which includes a bevy of state playoff berths and six state championships.

LaVoy has heard about it plenty from family members who were a part of that winning tradition in Mahnomen and now, the state's fourth-leading rusher can be a part of it.

The Indians will be making their 19th trip to the state playoffs after beating Warren-Alvarado-Oslo in the Section 8-1A championship by the score of 20-6.

LaVoy and his teammates are following that successful formula which was perfected by past Indian state championship teams -- rush the football, rush the football and then play some strong defense.

"That tradition means a lot, because I've talked to my older family members who played on those teams," said LaVoy, who gashed defenses for a total of 1,731 rushing yards and an 8.5 yards per carry average. "We know how to handle our business on the football field."

That luxury of a dominant rushing game and stout defensive play has resulted in an 11-0 mark and a chance to make a push for the school's seventh state title, as the Indians ran rampant over opponents, while consistently stuffing opposing offenses.

But entering the 2010 season, Mahnomen's head coach John Clark Jr. didn't know exactly what he had on the field, except for a seasoned group of players, especially on the offensive line and at the running back and quarterback positions.

"I thought we could be good and I thought Alex (LaVoy) and quarterback Dylan Stevens could break a few big runs," Clark said. "But I didn't think we would run the ball as effective as we did this season."

Just how effective?

Despite throwing the ball only 41 times during the season, the Indians punted the ball just nine times during the regular season.

First downs usually resulted in second and short, and that led to third and shorter. That alone put enough pressure on defenses to stop the Indians against a very talented offensive line.

"The offensive line has been so good adjusting on the fly," Clark said. "They've seen every defense thrown at them and they just find a way to get their jobs done. They outwork you every time."

Chemistry plays a big part in the success of Mahnomen's offensive line, which includes three-year starters in Kyle Robinson, Alex Greene and Tyler Coleman.

"We're just able to pull it together every time, even though we've seen all sorts of crazy defenses against us," Greene said. "We've just stuck with the rules the coaches give us and go out and beat everyone up."

When defenses do key on LaVoy, the Indians can turn to Stevens, who has been just as dangerous running the ball. He also proved he can throw the ball, as was apparent in the section title game against W-A-O, with two passing touchdowns.

"We can throw the football, but with how we've been rushing the ball, we haven't had to," Clark said.

The big boost to Mahnomen's 11-0 season came with its 4-0 start, including a win over Hawley in the opener and a victory over then state-ranked Fosston -- two teams which toppled Mahnomen 48-0 each last year.

"Going 4-0 against those kind of teams gave us a big jump and we started realizing what we have here," Coleman said. "By the time playoffs came, we knew we'd be pretty tough."

And the challenges will just keep getting tougher, as No. 4 Mahnomen will face No. 1 ranked Barnesville, which has run over every team it's faced this year.

The state quarterfinal game will be Friday inside the Fargodome, starting at 5 p.m.

"Barnesville's No. 1 ranking is very deserving," Clark said. "Their speed is just unbelievable for the high school level. But we're going to try and go at them and not get fancy."

Mahnomen's key will be to grind out long drives to keep the potent Trojan offense off the field. It's something the Indians have perfected through the regular season as well.

There have been halves where Mahnomen has held the ball so long, there were only three or four drives total by both teams in two quarters.

"We need our third and short or even fourth and short downs," Clark said.

Mahnomen has felt the role of underdog once, when they were ranked No. 5 in the state and Fosston No. 2. That resulted in a 28-14 win over the Greyhounds.

"We're the underdogs and we have no problem with that," LaVoy said. "We know they are fast, but we can't make any mistake, either."

"We need to come in and build an early lead, grab some momentum and build it from there," Stevens added.

But the Indians will hold the advantage in one intangible come Friday -- and that's a strong winning tradition, as it has been proven now for 19 times in Mahnomen's history.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.