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FOOTBALL: Brainerd peaking at opportune time

One of the trademarks of Brainerd Warriors football has been their ability to raise their level of play in the postseason.

This fall the Warriors finished the regular season 5-3 and have gone on to pound Cambridge-Isanti and St. Cloud Tech in the playoffs by a combined score of 77-10 while allowing an average of 164 yards per game.

Second-seeded Brainerd will play in its 10th section final in 17 years at 1 p.m. Saturday when it meets the No. 4 Moorhead Spuds at St. Cloud State.

“We have a terrific coaching staff, a bunch of teachers who teach very well,” Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. “When you have the kinds of kids we have, students who are willing to learn and try to improve ...

“Then, I don’t think we lose our course. We’re doing the same things fundamentally that we did on Aug. 15. When you have good teachers, willing students and stay with fundamentals, your chances of improving are pretty good, whether you’re in our classroom on the field or in a classroom in school.

“It’s just progress.”

In the regular season Brainerd struggled in a 17-7 loss at Moorhead. The Warriors gained a season-low 123 yards and were shut out the final 40 minutes. They lost despite creating four turnovers and yielding just 188 total yards.

“I think (Moorhead has) improved just like we have,” Stolski said. “It wasn’t one of our better games up there but Moorhead had a lot to do with it. Moorhead has a good, solid, fine football team.

“The thing that we’ve reminded our kids about was our effort wasn’t a typical Warrior effort. We expect to have a very good effort (Saturday). The section tournament has been indicative of the progress we spoke of. We’re just playing very well. Like any team, if we had a choice when you want to do it, it’s now.”

Spuds coach Kevin Feeney agreed Brainerd didn’t play up to its capability in the earlier game.

“In some phases of the game we played well enough to beat Brainerd,” he said, “but they didn’t play their best game. Looking at their scores the following three games they haven’t been close.

“Watching them on film they look like they’ve improved. It’s hard to say how they’ve improved that much that fast. It must be that the coaches found something in those kids because they look like a much better football team now.”

Feeney said his team wasted any momentum it might have generated against Brainerd when it got beat 30-24 at Alexandria five days later.

“I think the biggest thing we’re battling right now is getting our kids believing they can win every (week),” Feeney said. “When you play the tradition (the Warriors) have and the success they’ve had in Section 8 it’s huge momentum for them.

“The following Wednesday we turned around and didn’t perform very well against Alexandria. They knocked us around. It’s kind of a Catch-22. We feel like we can beat anybody. But we’re not a good enough team to make mistakes and win.”

The Spuds bring a 5-5 record into Saturday’s contest, winning three of their last four. They beat No. 5 Duluth East 50-30 and stunned top-seeded Elk River 40-11 in the semifinals.

Moorhead lost to Elk River 31-29 in the regular season on a late field goal.

“It was probably the best that we’ve played in all three phases of the game, by far,” Feeney said of the Elk River win. “Our special teams did a nice job. Our offense did enough and created some big plays and we made some big third down conversions.

“The story of the game was our defense. The last time we played Elk River we struggled tremendously. (In the semifinals) it all started with special teams. We gave them long fields.”

Feeney is cognizant of how Brainerd has started in the playoffs. The Warriors got up on C-I 28-3 in the first quarter and led Tech 28-0 at the half.

“The two previous games we had against them (in 2010) we were not involved in the game in the fourth quarter,” he said. “We’ve got to get it to the fourth and withstand the beginning of the game that Brainerd has had the last two weeks.”