A good first goal for the Verndale Pirates might be to get a lead against the Mountain Lake Wolverines.
Mountain Lake has not trailed all season, but the Pirates will get a chance to change that 7 pm. Friday, Nov. 9, in the Nine-Man state quarterfinals at Buffalo High School.
The third-ranked Pirates enter their 16th state tournament with an 11-0 record after winning the Section 4 title 12-0 over Underwood.
The two-time state champions will have their hands full against the fifth-ranked Wolverines' fifth state tournament with a 10-0 record. Mountain Lake has outscored opponents an average of 46.7 to 8.8 and won the Section 3 title by defeating Hills-Beaver Creek 34-0.
"They have very good team speed," said Verndale head coach Mike Mahlen. "They're very quick. They spread it out and the quarterback is a good runner. He scrambles and he's a good thrower, too, obviously. They like to have him run around a little bit and throw the ball a little bit. We're going to have to contain him. That's for sure."
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- Who: Section 4 champion Verndale Pirates (11-0) vs. Section 3 winner Mountain Lake Wolverines (10-0)
- When: 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 9
- Where: Buffalo High School
- For: Trip to Nine-Man state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 16
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Wolverines head coach Tim Kirk called his quarterback, junior Abraham Stoesz, a dual-threat quarterback who has thrown for almost 1,000 yards and rushed for 1,200.
Sophomore running back Mace Herrig scored two touchdowns in the section final.
"We do a lot of things on the edge and we throw if we have to," Kirk said. "We have a lot of different kids who can make plays. In fact, we have a couple of kids who haven't touched the ball a whole lot who would probably touch the ball a lot on most teams, but we try to spread it out evenly.
"We like to go fast and put a lot of different defenders in turmoil. We're not going to line up and pound the ball. We play pretty physically, but we're not huge. I think we're very athletic. Offensively, it's kind of hard to defend us because we run a lot of different formations. We have a very intelligent team. We want to expose the defense and so far so good, but now we're playing real football against teams that know how to play and are disciplined so we'll find a way to keep it going."
Verndale's defense has allowed just 1,281 yards rushing compared to 2,847 of their own. The Pirates' pass defense has picked off 13 passes and held opponents to just a 40-percent passing completion.
Verndale has outscored its opponents 40.9 to 11.8 and that includes two shutouts-both against Underwood-but one of the Pirates' advantages is they've seen Mountain Lake's offense in the form of Hancock, which they beat twice this year 40-21 and 36-29.
Granted, the Wolverines' team speed will be a difference.
"Sometimes speed you can't do anything about," Mahlen said. "As they say, speed kills. Hancock had pretty good speed and Hancock's offense is pretty much the same as Mountain Lake and Hancock got 29 points on us. It's exactly like Hancock ran.
"(Mountain Lake) probably runs the middle a little bit better and their quarterback is a little bitter. They have a good running back, too, so they'll trap you and run right up the middle. You can't just sit back and play the pass on them."
The Pirates will likely also have a size advantage on Mountain Lake led by junior Craig Orlando. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound fullback and defensive linemen will play a key role in stopping the Wolverines as well as gaining yards, but Kirk was impressed by quarterback Tate Bounds' command of the offense. Bounds has thrown for 1,155 yards and 15 touchdowns. His top targets have been Quinn Kern (30 catches, 345 yards and 4 TDs) and Orlando (18, 277, 4).
Jarret Kveton has rushed for 1,006 yards and eight scores while Matt Steege has 814 yards and 12 scores.
"Defensively we get on the ball pretty quick and we're decent tacklers," Kirk said. "That allows us, if we miss a tackle, we have two or three other guys getting on the ball pretty quick. Speed has been a key for a lot of the kids for a number of years. We just can't get the kids to put on the good weight. We have a lot of kids doing a lot of weight lifting, but it's mostly for core and working on foot speed and just getting enough strength.
"I'm sure when we get on the field, we will not look very intimidating. We never do, usually. We have a couple of big dudes, but I think people kind of chuckle when we hit the field, but then we get to prove that we can play. We're not going to be up 7-0 just by walking on the field. We're not intimidating anybody."
The Wolverines do have depth as Kirk said his offensive and defensive linemen and a few of their tight ends only play one way.
But a key for Verndale will be getting a lead.
"We're going to be trying to explain to the kids that we have to be happy with four yards," Kirk said. "You don't have to have 30 yards. We need four or five and maybe you get one and hopefully the next play you get seven. That will be different for us. It's a different mindset. Even in the section finals, we moved it pretty easily.
"Sometimes we get frustrated when we don't score on every possession, but that's not going to happen at this level. We'll work through that. This team has never been behind the whole year. It's going to happen at some point. We hope not, but it will and we have to know how to respond."