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Class 1A State Quarterfinals: Mahnomen vs. Barnum

Jake Hedstrom scoops up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown last Thursday in the Section 8-1A title game. Photo by - Brian Basham1 / 2
Bryce Penner (23) rushes in for a score against Red Lake County during the Section 8-1A championship team last Thursday inside the Fargodome. Photo by - Brian Basham2 / 2

The goal and motto of the 2012 Mahnomen football team has been, "Win the next play."

It's an adage that the Indians have taken to heart all season, and in terms of "winning the next play", they have won plenty of those.

The Class 1A No. 1 ranked Indians have blazed a path to their third-consecutive state playoff berth, one which is littered with dominated opponents who have fallen by the wayside.

Next up is the Class 1A state quarterfinals against Barnum at the Duluth Public School Stadium Saturday, beginning at noon.

Mahnomen's dominance was present each week, as the 11-0 team outscored its opponents by a 491-46 margin, while the first unit on defense allowed just one touchdown drive -- all season.

"We are never satisfied on defense, the coaches keep picking out the little things we did wrong," said senior Nick Otto, who is one of the forces on the defensive front. "That's what we pride ourselves on, doing the little things right."

The Indians have basically done all things right in all three phases of the game, as they consistently have limited their opposition to minimal yards of offense.

In back-to-back wins this season, the Indians allowed negative-three yards rushing in eight quarters of play.

In the Section 8-1A championship game against Red Lake County last Thursday, the Indians at one point in the first half, were outrushing the Rebels by a 246-0 margin.

"That's our main focus, to stop the rush," said senior defensive end and quarterback Jake Pavek. "The key is everyone plays their position and is disciplined. It's a team defense."

Not that the Indian offense is anything to sneer at, because they have held their own just as much as the defense has.

The biggest discrepancy against defenses is on the scoreboard, in that Mahnomen scores quickly.

It's all based out of their rushing attack, despite not one player rushing for over a 1,000 yards.

But there is good reason for that.

"We have had a lot of different rushers, because the first-string offense is usually out of the game by the early part of the second half," said Mahnomen head coach John Clark Jr. "Our starters just haven't played as much and I credit them for not complaining once all season.

"We just are not ones to run up the score."

Pavek, who was a 1,000-yard rusher last year, has 972 yards this year on just 102 carries. That is a hefty 9.5 yards per rush, while running the ball only an average of 9.3 times per game.

Junior running back Bob Bjorge is also nearing the 1,000-yard mark on the ground, with 908 yards on 106 carries for an 8.6 ypc average, as well.

But overall, 17 different players have rushed the ball for the Indians this season.

That all adds up to their game Saturday, when they face Barnum (9-2) in the Class 1A state quarterfinals.

The Bombers employ a big-play offense, one in which takes advantage of their smaller, speedy running backs with a bevy of sweeps and misdirection.

It will be a game featuring Mahnomen's almost impenetrable rushing defense, against Barnum's big-time play offense.

"Barnum sort of resembles us, in that they have a few big guys, but are athletic across the board," Clark said. "Their line gets off the ball quickly and they have good big-play ability.

"We need to make sure we play disciplined defense against them."

That concern of Clark's will more than likely be met by the stingy Indian defense, which credits its discipline and gang tackling as the reason the ball rarely progresses down the field against them.

"That's how we are coached, by being a team defense," said senior Garret Hoffner.

Even after a season where the defense has literally shut down the opposing offense, being satisfied and taking it easy is never an option, either.

"The coaches keep harping on us on the little things we did wrong in a game," said senior Jake Hedstrom, who is the team's leading tackler with 41. "We like to beat teams hard early and make the running backs sick of getting hit."

Then when the opposition punts, it goes to a proficient offense, led by two-year starter Pavek.

The Indians have a triple-threat option offense and Pavek runs it like a well-oiled machine.

"We have three options out of one play, it works well," said lineman Otto.

Even after losing fellow 1,000-yard rusher Avery Fairbanks last year to graduation, Pavek still had enough weapons in the backfield to help keep defenses honest.

"At the beginning of the season, we were wondering who would fill in, but after the first game, that question was answered," Pavek said.

Bjorge was joined by Hoffner (45 carries for 424 yards), who was joined by senior Bryce Penner (30-382), who was joined by junior Trevor Haugo (37-262) -- and the list just goes on and on.

Pavek also didn't have much of an opportunity to take the ball to the air, as the rushing attack built commanding leads by halftime.

He threw for 485 yards by going 34-58 for eighth touchdowns.

"We just didn't have to throw the ball this season," Clark said. "Jake can throw the ball, too, he just hasn't had the chance, yet."

Last year's 35-20 loss in the Class 1A state championship game to Dawson-Boyd, which included five turnovers by the Indians, still lingers for Mahnomen.

"Last year, that was our only close game of the season and it was a disadvantage to us," Hedstrom said. "But we know now anything can happen. We made some mistakes in that game."

But it's still a memory which drives the Indians to accomplishing perfection.

"It drives us in practice and last year's (loss) has helped us deal with adversity," Hoffner added.

Taking it one game at a time has led the Indians to just three more wins of clinching their seventh state championship in Mahnomen's history.

And the way the Indians are surging, there will need to be a pretty big obstacle to stop them from gaining it, because Mahnomen is ready for another strong state playoff showing.

"The players are focused and level-headed, this was a new season, a new team and they didn't look ahead," Clark said. "The No. 1 ranking meant zero points on the board every week. These kids know what to expect now and they know they will be going up against some great competition."

But the goal will remain the same -- "Win the next play."

If that happens like it has all season long, the by-product will be state championship No. 7 for Mahnomen.

Mahnomen season stats -- Record 11-0.

Indians 491, Opponents 43

Mahnomen 46, Pillager 6

Mahnomen 36, Frazee 0

Mahnomen 47, Walker/H-A 0

Mahnomen 47, Warren-A-O 0

Mahnomen 56, Fosston 0

Mahnomen 66, Lake Park-Audubon 6

Mahnomen 37, Fertile-Beltrami 0

Mahnomen 39, Red Lake County 0

Section Playoffs

Mahnomen 44, Red Lake 0

Mahnomen 27, Warren-A-O 7

Championship: Mahnomen 46, RLC 24

* * *

Individual Rushing

Player Att Yds Ypc TD

Jacob Pavek 102 972 9.5 25

Bob Bjorge 106 908 8.6 7

Garret Hoffner 45 424 9.4 8

Bryce Penner 30 382 12.7 4

Trevor Haugo 37 262 7.1 3

Jon Hoffner 31 239 7.7 1

Tom Pavek 15 94 6.3 1

Trevor Krebsbach 14 73 5.2 2

Jake Worms 13 71 5.5 1

Austin Reitan 14 56 4.0 1

Brian Schoenborn 5 46 9.2 1

Blake Kahlbaugh 8 45 5.6 1

Kody Lefebvre 18 29 1.6 1

Riley McCollum 10 26 2.6 1

Nick Otto 1 15 15 1

John Francis 3 13 4.7 1

Jason Schoenborn 1 (-1) (-1) 0

* * *

Individual Passing

Player No Comp Yds TD

J. Pavek 58 34 485 8

B. Schoenborn 1 0 0 0

T. Pavek 1 0 0 0

* * *

Pass Receiving

Player No. Yds. TD

J. Schoenborn 12 194 4

T. Haugo 7 125 0

G. Hoffner 8 98 3

Nathan Hanson 3 42 1

Bjorge 1 9 0

T. Pavek 1 3 0

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