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Chris Murphy, Published October 30 2013

Familiar rivals set for another faceoff

FARGO – When Barnesville football coach Bryan Strand took over as Trojans head coach nine years ago, there was a high school less than 30 miles away he aimed his program to be like.

“Hawley was the elite program,” Strand said. “Every year going to section finals and going to the state tourney. They were the type of program I wanted to have, where football mattered to the school and the community.”

Now, Hawley is the team Strand aims to beat. The two will meet Friday at the Fargodome at 8 p.m. to decide the Minnesota Class 2A, Section 8 title for the second straight season.

“Hawley versus Barnesville means a lot to me,” Strand said. “If we lose this game, I am not sure I consider this season to be a success.”

Last season’s game had everything a high school football fan could want. Hawley, ranked No. 5 at the time, trailed 20-6 to then No. 3-ranked Barnesville. The Nuggets scored 32 second-half points to win 38-34. The first 12 points of the second half came on a

60-yard run from Ben Ellefson and a 51-yard run from Alex Ames. After a Trojans touchdown, Ellefson found Jordan Harms for a 90-yard touchdown pass. On fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Ellefson’s quarterback sneak with 5 minutes, 38 seconds remaining gave Hawley its first lead at

38-34. The Trojans got to the Hawley 19-yard line with under 20 seconds remaining, but were stopped short by inches on a fourth-and-4 run.

“I can’t count how many times I heard people say, ‘Last year’s game was the best high school football game I have ever seen,’” Hawley coach Peder Naatz said. “From our standpoint, I’d have to agree, but I’m sure the Barnesville faithful would like to think of a different game to be the best.”

Friday’s game has all the makings to top last season’s game. Hawley (8-1) comes in ranked No. 8 and Barnesville (10-0) comes in ranked No. 3 in Class 2A. The game returns players who scored eight of 11 touchdowns in last season’s game.

Barnesville running back Michael Strand, who rushed for 183 yards and four touchdowns in last season’s game, returns as a senior. Ellefson rushed for 62 yards and two touchdowns with his 90-yard touchdown pass to Harms his only throw of last season’s game. Both Ellefson and Harms return as juniors.

“We get up for this game more than any other game,” Strand said. “We practice twice a day preparing for their offense and their unique way of doing things. They are the team that everyone strives to beat just because of their dominance the past 15 years or so.”

There are 19 state appearances between Hawley (13) and Barnesville (6), with each team finishing second in the state twice.

Which team gets the 20th trip to state will be decided Friday.

“Both teams know what’s on the line, so any pep talk stuff will be wasted energy,” Naatz said. “This combination of teams makes for a tremendous game because of the familiarity we have with one another, the traditions that have been built over time and the pride each town has in its school and teams. If both teams can have their best performance of the season, it should be another dandy.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548