PREP FOOTBALL: Blackjacks unfazed by hype

A few days away from playing in its second Class A State Football championship game in three years, the Dawson-Boyd football team is running practice like business as usual.

“You could walk into our practice and it would feel a lot like any other practice during the season,” said Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson. “The nice thing is you get into situations like this and you have a pretty humble group of kids that just like playing the game. You don’t have to worry about them getting overly excited and draining themselves.

“They are going about their business and preparing. They are doing what they need to do to go out and compete on Saturday.”

The Blackjacks, who were ranked No. 5 in the final Class A poll this season, have their work cut out for them with defending state champion Mahnomen. The Indians finished the season 13-0 and were ranked No. 1 in the final poll.

But Dawson-Boyd isn’t letting that affect them.

“We haven’t even brought up that they are defending state champs. They have a pretty storied history, period,” Larson said. “I think this is the fourth state tournament they’ve been to in a row. Three years ago we played them in the state championship, last year they were state champs. I think we were the last team to beat them.”

Mahnomen is 27-0 over the last two seasons and are looking to repeat as state champs, but for Larson and the Blackjacks, history is just history.

“We are just focused on really preparing for this year’s team. Kids graduate, and though their system is the same, the personnel changes,” said Larson. “Whether they’re the defending state champs or not, if you are in the state championship game, your opponent is going to be a good football team.”

Mahnomen isn’t in the championship by accident. The Indians are averaging 41.2 points per game while holding opponents to a paltry 3.3 ppg. Dawson-Boyd averages 37.8 ppg and held opponents to 12.5 ppg.

When it comes to offense, Mahnomen finds most of its success on the ground. Sophomore quarterback Tom Pavek has scored 13 rushing touchdowns while Senior running back Austin Reitan added another 14 rushing touchdowns.

“They pretty much attack right at you,” said Larson. “Their fullbacks are going to carry the ball the majority of the time. You take that away and forget about the quarterback, he’s going around the edge for 30-40 yards.”

The Indians haven’t had to go to the air much this season. Pavek is 19-of-32 with four touchdowns passing, which Larson is hoping to take advantage of.

“They run the ball so well, so they have some play action stuff that is very effective,” Larson said. “If you can take that and put them in long distances where play action isn’t going to be effective, it makes our defense that much more effective.”

Defensively the Blackjacks will need to take care of their duties and believe in the guys playing next to them to stop Mahnomen.

“You have to execute your assignments and you have to trust that your teammates are going to execute their assignments,” Larson said.

On the offensive side, Dawson-Boyd will have to play strong on the line to keep quarterback Joey Lee upright. Lee has completed 58-percent of his passes this season for 2,013 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“I think we have an advantage in the passing game, but they are very disciplined defensively,” Larson said. “If we can protect Joey, we’ll have a lot of success in the throwing game.”

The Blackjack rushing game is questionable going into Saturday. Lead rusher Dalton Palmer, who has 1,554 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season, is day-to-day. Mike Anyasike is also battling injuries, but is looking better.

“Dalton is still not ready to go. Hopefully by Saturday,” said Larson. “Mike Anyasike has been banged up a little bit. He looked good in practice on Monday.”

Heading into one of the biggest games of their lives, Larson has been pleased with how his team has handled the build-up from the first day of practice to the last game of the season, and for some, careers.

“I’ve been pretty pretty proud of the guys. You know this is it,” Larson said. “Especially for the seniors, if this is going to be the last game that they play in a Blackjack uniform, this is the one they want to be playing in.”