PREP FOOTBALL: Marshall remains positive with Southwest Conference looming

By Jeff Arenz

MARSHALL – The Marshall Tigers have not had a good start to the 2013 football season.

Despite being 0-2 overall, MHS head coach Terry Bahlmann and his players have a positive attitude as the Tigers prepare to host Southwest Conference rival Luverne on Friday at The Schwan Regional Event Center.

“We have mad some mistakes, but our goal still remains and that is to win the conference championship. It’s right in front of us,” Bahlmann said. “We haven’t had many times during the last three to four years where we have been the underdog against them. Hopefully, we can relish that role.”

Tigers center and middle linebacker Jason Polzin agreed.

“I am pumped up because I know, despite our start, we can still win a conference championship,” Polzin said. “That gives me more motivation to get on the field and play my best.”

Losses at New Hope Robbinsdale Cooper (24-13) on Aug. 30 and at home against Fairmont (15-2) last Friday have handed Marshall a three-game losing streak, dating back to the Tigers’ 21-14 defeat against Glencoe-Silver Lake on Oct. 27, 2012, in the semifinals of the Class AAAA Section 2 Tournament last season.

Marshall has not lost four consecutive games since the 2004 season, when the Tigers dropped contests to Windom Area, Redwood Valley, Fairmont and Jackson County Central from Oct. 1 to Oct. 20. The game against Redwood Valley was the only home tilt during that span.

Since finishing 4-6 in 2004, MHS has a combined record of 62-18 overall. During the last nine meetings against Luverne, the Tigers are 6-3 and have won the last four contests.

“It’s a little different territory for us, but we have been in both ballgames and had the opportunity to win them both, but we didn’t get it done,” Bahlmann said. “We need to clean up the mistakes that have hurt us in key situations and the fourth quarter has not been very good to us. We have eight yards of offense and given up four sacks in two games during the fourth quarter.”

In each of its first two games this season, Marshall has outgained its opponents 509 yards to 415. In contrast, Luverne has a much larger margin in total yards (639-199) against its competition.

On the scoreboard, the Tigers have been outscored 39-15, while the Cardinals (2-0 overall, 1-0 Southwest) have a 48-6 scoring margin. Luverne defeated New Ulm 28-6 on Aug. 23 in a “Zero Week” game before blanking Worthington 20-0 last Friday.

Tigers quarterback Brad Bahlmann has completed 15 of 28 passes for 169 yards and thrown two interceptions. With 62 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries, he is the second-leading rusher for MHS.

Running back Sam Marshall, who turned in a 100-yard game at Robbinsdale Cooper, leads the Tigers with 131 yards on 30 carries. The next three rushing options are fullback Jack Bock (12 attempts, 47 yards) and running backs Nick Saugstad (8-for-45) and Max Roelfsma (6-for-41, one touchdown).

Wide receivers Drew Hmielewski (6 catches, 109 yards), Marshall (6-for-36) and Saugstad (3-for-24) have been targeted by Bahlmann this season.

“Our offensive line has to come out and dominate. That’s where we have some seniors,” Coach Bahlmann said. “If our offensive line plays well, the running will go well and we’ll be able to pass off of that.”

Coach Bahlmann pointed to a matchup between Luverne defensive tackle Cody Rofshus and Marshall’s left tackle Tyus DeBoer as one that could have an impact on the game.

“A lot of guys on the offensive line have experience playing varsity football from previous years,” Polzin said. “We have been in games early-on because we have been in front by so much. I think that experience is showing this year, especially with Tyus at left tackle and me at center.”

Brett Andries is the Tigers left guard. Hunter Greve will be at right guard and Alex Palme is Marshall’s right tackle.

All of Luverne’s touchdowns this season have come on the ground. Of the Cardinals 639 total yards, 472 have been gained through rushing. In contrast, Marshall has 340 yards on the ground.

“Playing defense is about being physical with the front seven,” Polzin said. “We can’t worry about losing, but if we can dominate by stopping the run, I think we’ll have a good chance to be successful.”

Andrew Verhey leads Luverne in rushing with 169 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. He is accompanied by Jackson Winter (20-for-93, one touchdown), Connor Hoffman (3-for-72, one touchdown), Erik Tofteland (15-for-54, three touchdowns), Kendall Meyer (22-for-22), Bobby Rogers (5-for-23), Josh Slieter (2-for-20) and Payton Stemper (3-for-9).

Meyer, the Cardinals quarterback, is 9 of 19 for 130 yards with no TD passes in 2013. Hoffman, the LHS junior varsity quarterback, has completed one pass for 27 yards.

Luverne has distributed the ball to six different wideouts, including Logan Norman (3-for-49), Verhey (2-for-19), Winter (2-for-23), Slieter (1-for-23), Connor Crabtree (1-for-18) and Trenton Rops (1-for-29).