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Chris Murphy, Published November 13 2013

Winning tradition keeps Mahnomen's focus on final prize

Fargo - A football team is in pretty good shape when their coach says giving up a few long touchdowns in a playoff game is just what the doctor ordered.

“Our last game was great for us,” Mahnomen coach John Clark Jr. said of the 28-12 win over Upsala-Swanville Area in the Class 1A state quarterfinals. “We gave up a couple of long touchdown passes that we probably shouldn’t have, but I thought our kids did a great job responding to that. There was not a lot of head-hanging.”

That’s life for a top-ranked Mahnomen football team that has never trailed in a game this season and has the longest active winning streak in Minnesota high school football at 26. The defending Class 1A state champions are just looking for someone to compete with.

Poor Mahnomen is looking for a reason to smile.

“They won the section championship and they weren’t all that excited,” Clark Jr. said. “There were no smiles. I kind of got on them a little bit that they needed to enjoy it and celebrate it. It’s quite an accomplishment. Even after last week’s game, there was such a ho-hum attitude. It’s real surprising. I hope they realize what they’re accomplishing.”

Winning has become the norm in Mahnomen, Minn. It started long before this season’s squad.

“Mahnomen was a dynasty before I got here,” Clark Jr., who is in his 13th season with the Indians and holds a 118-33 record at the helm. “It doesn’t get old. This is exciting. This is the fifth time as a coaching staff, we’ve been down to the Metrodome and it’s just as exciting.”

No team in Minnesota has been to the state title game more times than the Indians (12). Only two programs have more state titles than the Indians’ seven championships in Eden Prairie and

Totino-Grace, which have eight and nine, respectively. The Indians’ 22 trips to the state tournament trails only Cretin-Durham (24) and Totino-Grace (22) in Minnesota history.

During the 26-game winning streak, Mahnomen has outscored opponents 1,136-121 with 15 shutouts. Mahnomen’s last loss came on Nov. 25, 2011, in the Class 1A state title game

35-20 to Dawson-Boyd.

“The last couple of years we’ve had a really good group,” Clark Jr. said. “I think getting to the state championship game and losing motivated last year’s group. Then, they got there and won and that motivated this year’s group.”

If Mahnomen wants to get to the state title game for the 13th time, they will have to get by Bethlehem Academy. The Cardinals know how the Indians feel about losing in the state championship, considering they did just that to Mahnomen last season

20-14. No team has gotten closer to beating the Indians.

“I actually talked to (Bethlehem Academy football coach) Scott Hanson at a football clinic last spring and he kept saying, ‘We’re gunning for you. We’re coming for Mahnomen,’” Clark Jr. said. “I joked and said, ‘Well, I hope so. If we meet, we’re meeting in the state semifinals, so that’ll be fun.’ And here we are. It’s all good-natured trash talking. Now it’s coming to fruition.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548