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Heath Hotzler, Published November 13 2009

Dakota Bowl: Hankinson one win away from celebrating a ND 9-man championship

Hankinson football coach Jason Monilaws wanted to be realistic when he gathered his team together before the season to talk about goals.

So he kept it simple.

“I told them our focus on a team goal would be to get into the playoffs,” said Monilaws, whose team had not won a postseason game in his previous five seasons as head coach. “Then, if we got into the playoffs, whatever happened after that was kind of the icing on the cake.”

Well, Hankinson’s cake is now smothered with icing. And there is a chance to put a giant cherry on top of the season with a win against Parshall/White Shield today in the North Dakota 9-man state championship game at noon at the Fargodome.

The Pirates (9-2) opened the season with a 1-2 record as standout starting quarterback and linebacker Alex Althoff remained sidelined due to a North Dakota High School Activities Association rules violation.

Several players were forced to switch positions to compensate for the missing player, leading to missed assignments and uncertainty.

However, things turned around quickly when Althoff returned.

“(Althoff) took over at quarterback and worked into the linebacker spot and that shifted people out of positions they shouldn’t have been in,” Monilaws said. “That really, really has helped.”

Hankinson won four consecutive regular-season games after Althoff’s arrival to secure the No. 3 seed from Region 2.

And emotions have run high with every postseason win, Monilaws said.

Hankinson won its first home playoff game since 1997 when it slipped past New Rockford-Sheyenne 28-26 in the first round.

The Pirates then handed Napoleon its first defeat at home since 2005 in the second round.

A 55-36 win against South Border in the quarterfinals came as Monilaws’ father lay in a hospital bed due to illness.

But last week’s win against defending state champion Hillsboro was the most memorable.

The Pirates rallied to score three touchdowns in the final 3 minutes, 11 seconds against the Burros to earn a spot in the state finals.

“It’s very exciting,” senior running back and linebacker Garrett Stein said. “We just try to play as hard as we can. We know all of the guys on our team will work hard and give it their all. We just try to find ways to win and score points. We never give up. Even when we are tired, we just keep playing. If we play with heart, good will come out of it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562