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Indians trample Braham to head into Class 1A semifinals

DULUTH - When the Mahnomen Indian offense needed four yards during the Class 1A state quarterfinals against Braham Friday night in Duluth, senior running back Avery Fairbanks picked it up on the ground.

When the Indians needed 11 yards on third down, Fairbanks picked it up.

When Mahnomen switched to their two-minute offense right before halftime, yes, Fairbanks was the one who helped carry them down the field.

All those Fairbanks' rushing yards -- totaling 233 yards on 34 carries (6.6 ypc) -- led to a 30-6 dominating win over the Bombers, as Mahnomen (12-0) moves on to the Class 1A state semifinals against Sleepy Eye-St. Mary's (9-3) Friday at 10:15 a.m. inside the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

"The offensive line just did an amazing job, I wasn't getting touched until the second level," Fairbanks said.

The state quarterfinal was a typical Mahnomen win, as the Indians pounded the Bombers with a relentless rushing attack, while stifling a high-flying Braham offense, led by senior quarterback Tyler Vaughan, by outgaining them by a hefty 391-197 margin.

The Indians set the tone for the game on their second drive and already leading 6-0 and after stopping Braham on fourth and three from the Mahnomen five-yard line.

The drive stalled after Braham drove 57 yards on 12 plays, and on a fourth and three pass by Vaughan, which tipped off a Bomber receiver's fingers.

It started what quickly became the drive of the season for the Indians.

The series started with six consecutive Fairbanks' runs, netting 38 yards, with most of it coming off of right tackle.

"The game plan was to smack them in the mouth with our rushing game," said Mahnomen head coach John Clark Jr. "We basically ran two or threes different plays on the first two drives."

What wasn't broke, the Indians were not going to fix it, as they marched the entire 95 yards on 16 plays, all coming on rushes averaging 6.3 yards a carry.

When it was all said and done, it was Mitch Kochmann who ran it in from 11 yards out. Mahnomen added the two-point conversion on a Jacob Pavek pass to Trevor Haugo for a 14-0 lead at the 8:38 mark in the second quarter.

What the drive accomplished wasn't just a time-consuming series, thus keeping the Bombers' offense off the field, it also dictated Mahnomen's dominance at the line of scrimmage.

Mahnomen outgained the Bombers in the entire first half just on their 95-yard drive, as Braham was stymied to 62 total yards of offense in the first two quarters.

"It was all guts and heart," said junior offensive lineman Jacob Hedstrom of the Mahnomen's dominance in the rushing game. "The play was called and we went out and made our blocks for four or five seconds and drove them down the field and opened holes.

"That second drive of the game was huge, it took a lot of time off the clock and gave us a lot of momentum."

The Bombers were held to a three-and-out on the ensuing set of downs, then couldn't take advantage of a late second-quarter fumble by Mahnomen, which resulted in another three and out series.

On Braham's second punt of the quarter, the Indians ignited an eight-play, 41-yard drive, which ended with Pavek hitting a seam on a scramble for a seven-yard touchdown for the 22-0 edge -- including a two-point rush by Fairbanks -- with 17.5 seconds left in the second quarter.

Braham tried one more heave at the Indian lead, by putting together a nice 18-play drive of their own in the third quarter, but it ultimately was halted on fourth and 16 on the Mahnomen 33.

From then on, the Bombers looked like they wanted no piece of Fairbanks and the hard-hitting Mahnomen defense.

"Our offensive line was just tenacious and Avery (Fairbanks), who isn't the biggest kid, ran like a big back and picked up a lot of yards after first contact," Clark said. "Our kids love to hit and the more the contact, the better."

Mahnomen added one more touchdown on Fairbank's 12-yard run. The game was typified on Fairbanks' last carry of the game, where he bolted through a hole for a first down, carrying three to four Bombers tacklers with him.

The Indians opened the game by winning the coin toss, then driving it 65 yards and scoring on Fairbanks' first TD of the game from 17 yards out.

Defensively, Mahnomen was stout against Braham's big-play quarterback Vaughan, who totaled just 38 yards rushing and 153 passing.

"The coaches told us all week to hem him up, keep him contained," said senior linebacker Aaron Vipond. "He was very fast, so the linebackers couldn't shoot in, instead we had to breakdown and stay home to play our position so (Vaughan) wouldn't get lose."

Braham, which relied on the big play all season, had just three go over 20 yards, including Vaughan's 30-yard touchdown pass to Shaun Hollenkamp with just 3:13 left in the game.

"We wanted to prevent the big play and let them dink and dunk on us to use the clock up," Clark said. "It really shortened the game."

Possession also was held heavily by Mahnomen, as they had 24 first downs to Braham's 11, while the Bombers had only 44 rushing yards.

Next up in the semifinal round at the Metrodome will be Section 2-1A champion Sleepy Eye-St. Mary's.

The hunger of playing past the first round of state hasn't been sated, either, there will be no satisfaction by these Indians, Fairbanks said.

"Losing in the first round last year gave us a lot of motivation to win (Friday)," he added. "But this isn't the end for us, we are not satisfied by just getting to the Dome."

In the other semifinal game, Dawson-Boyd (12-0) will face Blooming Prairie (10-1), which play Saturday at 10:15 a.m. inside the Metrodome.

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