Brian Wierima / Forum Communications Co., Published November 22 2012
No. 1 Mahnomen looks to stay perfect as it takes on unranked Bethlehem Academy in Minnesota Class 1A title game
The No. 1-ranked and undefeated Mahnomen Indians took a direct route to the Metrodome, as they picked up where they left off from last year’s runner-up finish.
The Indians plowed through the competition, averaging 43 points per game and limiting opponents to 3.6 points per game.
The fact the Indians are playing in their second straight state championship game is a shock to no one.
“We’ve been here playing for a championship before and we were expecting to come back this year,” said Mahnomen head coach John Clark Jr. “But I say this constantly, with Mahnomen’s rich tradition, people get spoiled and expect this every year. These kids have accomplished something which doesn’t happen much.”
Their opponent is the much less known Bethlehem Academy Cardinals of Faribault, which bring in an 11-2 record.
The Cardinals have not been ranked in the state all season and are making their state playoffs debut.
Compare that to the Indians vying for their seventh state championship and their 21st overall appearance in the state playoffs, the two teams are definitely on the different sides of the spectrum.
But the Cardinals have been pulling off upsets.
Bethlehem’s victories in the state playoffs came against No. 2-ranked Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s in the quarterfinals 43-12, followed by a 29-20 win over defending state champion and No.
3-ranked Dawson-Boyd in last Saturday’s semifinal.
They avenged an earlier 12-7 loss to No. 7-ranked Blooming Prairie with a
56-13 win in the Section 1 championship game.
“They are very hot coming in,” Clark noted. “The number one thing that jumps out at you is their team speed. It’s not just one or two players, either, it’s four or five who are burners.”
Seniors Blake Langerud and Kyle Filzen are the biggest threats on the Cardinals’ side of the ball.
Langerud has 1,186 rushing yards and scored 15 touchdowns, while the quarterback Filzen has completed only 38 percent of his passes, but 16 of them have gone for touchdowns.
“They kind of lull you to sleep with their rushing game, then take their shots, especially after a turnover,” Clark said. “Usually when they throw the ball, they are going for broke and those 16 passing touchdowns tell you that.”
Against Dawson-Boyd, the Cardinals used a
50-yard punt return and an interception to account for two of their three touchdowns in a span of just six minutes.
“The biggest key for our defense is to remain disciplined,” Clark said. “With their counter runs, we need to stay home and play our positions. We can’t be overly aggressive and we need to control our gaps.
“Most of all, we need to tackle well, because if we don’t, they will be gone.”
Mahnomen has also been an offensive juggernaut, in which it controls the ball with a strong running game.
Senior quarterback Jacob Pavek has scored 27 rushing touchdowns and netted 1,156 yards on 131 attempts. Junior Bob Bjorge has tallied 978 yards on 121 attempts.
Those offensive numbers could be much more bloated, but in the majority of games this season, the starters were on the sidelines watching another blowout victory.
But that will not be the case, as Mahnomen found out last Saturday in its close 26-20 win over Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City.
“It was an eye opener,” said senior running back Bryce Penner. “We’ll work on some things in practice, and it’s going to be a big challenge. But we’ll be ready.”
Wierima is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune