Even though it’s only the first game of the second half of the regular season, a conference championship and high seed in the Section 8-5A could await the winner down the road when the Brainerd Warriors play the St. Cloud Tech Tigers Friday night.
Tech is 4-0 in Central Lakes Conference and section play while Brainerd is 2-1 in the CLC, 2-2 overall.
“It’s a conference game, a section game,” Warriors coach Ron Stolski said, “and they’ve got a nice team. They’re undefeated. They’ve won games pretty close. They have two really good running backs (Jacob Peterson and Bryant Amundson) and always plays good defense.”
The Tigers have beaten Sartell 21-20, Alexandria 14-9, Sauk Rapids-Rice 14-0 and Cambridge-Isanti 27-14. Tigers coach Gregg Martig said much is at stake Friday night.
“It’s a big game in the conference, and obviously a big game in the section,” he said. “I don’t know about our kids but I certainly consider Brainerd our biggest rival. I don’t look at Apollo as much of a rival as maybe people around town do.
“To me it’s our biggest game of the year in a lot of ways. Typically, if you want a chance to win a conference title you have to take care of this game. If you want to win the section I gauge how Brainerd’s doing. That’s how we set the bar.
“The bottom line is if you want to win the section it’s usually one of us that you’ve got to deal with at some point and that’s the way we approach it.”
Peterson and Amundson lead the Tigers on the ground. Peterson has rushed for 461 yards and four touchdowns. Amundson has added 159 yards and two scores.
“Peterson is pretty talented,” Martig said. “He started as a sophomore, along with (quarterback) Jesse (Lavoi).”
Lavoi has completed 34 of 55 passes (61.8 percent) for two TDs and 246 yards.
“His passing is better this year,” Martig said. “His stats would look better, minus some penalties. Most of our callbacks were big pass plays, other balls were dropped. He’s having a better season than his numbers indicate.”
Lavoi’s favorite receiver is Kevin Heysse with 12 catches for 270 yards (22.5) and two TDs.
Tech’s defensive leaders are Austin Klaverkamp (40 tackles), Dieter Brenner (36), Amundson (35) and Nathan Kor (35).
“We’re pretty happy with our defense,” Martig said. “I think that’s the strength of our team. We fly around the ball. We’ve been pretty formidable. We get a lot of pressure up front. It’s a pretty physical group.”
The Tigers have bounced back from a 2-7 season last year and a 4-6 mark in 2009.
“The difference this year is we’re winning the close games instead of finding a way to lose them,” Martig said. “A couple games could have been a bit more lopsided, minus a few penalties. We’ve had three or four touchdowns called back. That’s something we’ve got to clean up on the offensive side of the ball.
“We knew this senior class had a pretty talented core of kids. If they stayed healthy we thought we had a pretty good chance to start the season off well.”
Brainerd started 2-0 and was ranked as high as ninth in 5A. But the Warriors lost to Sartell 8-3 and lost 21-7 to Bemidji. The Lumberjacks held Brainerd to 108 yards rushing, 117 passing.
“We have to make some throws down the field,” Stolski said. “Bemidji’s defense was by far the best defense we’ve seen. They did a heck of a job on our running game. That really was the first team this year that has stopped our running game.”
The Warriors gave up 406 yards against Bemidji.
“After looking at it on tape we made a lot of mistakes in that game,” Stolski said. “That was the first time we really did that this season, but all the credit goes to a very good team. We’ve got to rectify things that we didn’t do.
“We expect to go down (to Tech) and play well, that’s our expectation. We need to tackle better and block longer and we’ll be just fine.”