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FOOTBALL: Brainerd to see if Moorhead’s record deceiving

Warriors Jace Engelmann and Dylon Tollefson bring down a Rocori running back in

Are the Moorhead Spuds better than their record?

The Brainerd Warriors will find out Friday night when they travel to Moorhead to take on the 2-4 Spuds.

Moorhead beat Fergus Falls 28-21 and hammered Willmar 56-35. Otherwise, the Spuds have lost to Rocori, Elk River and St. Cloud Tech by a combined 16 points and to Bemidji 40-13.

“This will be a very tough game for us,” Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. “We will have to definitely continue to improve. It’s always a long trip, which is not an easy thing to do, so we’ll have to maintain our focus playing up there. 

“Every game they’ve been in has been close, win or lose, so it’s a testimony to the fact they have a good team whose record probably isn’t indicative of how good they are.”

Moorhead lost to Tech 17-10 after leading 3-0 at halftime and trailing just 10-3 entering the fourth. The Spuds threw three interceptions.

“They were very costly turnovers, which has kind of been the way our season has gone so far,” Spuds coach Kevin Feeney said. “We’ve struggled when we’ve turned the football over. It’s been a combination of putting the ball on the ground and some errant throws.”

Feeney said Moorhead returns most of its skill position players from last year’s team that lost to the Warriors 35-12 for the Section 8-5A championship. The Spuds finished 6-5 in Feeney’s first year as head coach after he left Fargo South.

Running backs Chase Morlock and Jacob Uglem return along with wide receiver Mason Ness and tight end Erik Bye. The Spuds return about five players on defense.

“We’re good enough to win games,” Feeney said, “but by the same token we’re not a good enough team to have 2-3-4 minutes where we play poor football and have turnovers and expect to get something done.”

Brainerd (4-2) is coming off a 30-0 homecoming win over St. Cloud Apollo. The Warriors’ defense limited Apollo to 44 total yards and three first downs. The Eagles didn’t cross midfield.

“Our defense is just relentless,” Stolski said. “It’s undersized, it started out inexperienced, but we tell the kids we’ve got three-fourths of a season’s worth of experience so that has to play a role in how we play.

“The effort from the kids who are playing defense has been outstanding. I also think the preparation the kids are getting from the defensive staff, headed by coach (Jason) Freed, has just been excellent. When preparation and passion are good friends you have a chance to play well.”

Friday’s game will be the first of two in six days to end the regular season. Brainerd finishes Wednesday at Sauk Rapids.

“I mentioned to our boys (Tuesday) that we have six practice days and our season ends,” Stolski said. “It’s just a wide-eyed reality — wow — how fast it goes from Aug. 15 to here.

“In terms of prep you need to be careful. You need to do everything you can to keep your team healthy. At the same time you have to ask them and your staff to continue to improve because now is not the time to not get better because the season is still the most important piece of the program. We have 25 percent of the season left, and it’s going to happen in about 1/10th of the practice time.”

The Warriors are led in rushing by Nick Welch with 489 yards and two TDs. Quarterback Mitch McLain has thrown for 426 yards and two scores. Jimmy Giese is the leading receiver with 10 catches for 106 yards. Linebacker Rob Wanous is the leading tackler with 85.

“Brainerd is very good up front on both sides,” Feeney said. “Their experience at quarterback, you can tell, keeps them in a winning mode. 

“Defensively, they cause so many problems with how active they are. They wear you down and eventually something springs. Their special teams are so solid. They win the field position battle. You can tell they’re well prepared, well coached, understand their roles, and do their roles very well.”