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State Football: Pillager looks to get past Paynesville for trip to the Bank

Pillager's Ben Oie (56) blocks for Hunter Gjovik (9) during a game Oct. 17 this season against Staples-Motley. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
Pillager's Erik Peterson passes against Staples-Motley Oct. 17. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

Both are state tournament savvy.

Both have their distinct way of doing things.

And both coaches are keeping any game plan wrinkles close to their vest, which should mean the Class 2A state quarterfinal between the Pillager Huskies and Paynesville Bulldogs could be a classic when they square off 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, at Alexandria High School.

This will be Pillager's fifth state tournament appearance and second in three years. The Huskies were ranked seventh in the final Class 2A poll and own a Quality Results Formula of 8. Pillager outscored opponents 38.5 to 14.1 and won the Section 6-2A title by topping Osakis 30-16.

"Pillager appears to be really aggressive and extremely fast on defense so I think for us, we're just going to have to try and get every yard we can and hopefully we can keep our offense on the field and keep their offense off the field," Paynesville head coach Max Meagher said.

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Class 2A quarterfinals

  • Who: Section 6-2A champion Pillager Huskies (10-1) vs. Section 5-2A winner Paynesville Bulldogs (8-2)
  • When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9
  • Where: Alexandria High School
  • For: A spot in Class 2A state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15

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"We haven't really seen anything as far as the double-tight and double-wing offense. They have that really athletic, big fullback behind the quarterback and a lot of deception and a lot of things they do. It will be something we haven't seen."

This will be Paynesville's fourth state tournament and second straight. The Bulldogs advanced to the Class 2A semifinals last season before losing to eventual state champion Caledonia in the semifinals.

Paynesville was ranked 11th in the final poll and owns a QRF rating of 4. They outscored their opponents 50.2-17.5 and shut out both of their Section 5-2A opponents.

"They are very good," Pillager coach Paul Peterson. "They're explosive. They have an efficient and explosive offense and just looking at their roster they've had guys playing for quite a while. Their quarterback is a three-year starter. They have some weapons and a pretty good offensive line. So they're a pretty good all-around team offensively and defensively."

Pillager's offense is led by junior back Tucker Peterson, who's rushed for 1,154 yards and 14 touchdowns on 137 carries. Junior Luke Woidyla has rushed for 885 yards and 13 scores and Hunter Gjovik 365 yards and four scores. At fullback, junior Jack Bentson has 337 yards and eight TDs.

Pillager is more balanced this season with Erik Peterson throwing for 1,148 yards and 16 touchdowns.

"I think a recipe for disaster is to try and stop everything," Meagher said. "Hopefully, we can take one or two things away. I don't know that anybody has really been able to stop them so we'll have our hands full. At the line of scrimmage, we're going to have to win some one-on-one battles."

Paynesville has more than doubled its opponents in terms of yardage. The Bulldogs have rushed for 3,511 yards and passed for 1,582 yards, while giving up just 1,506 and 1,008.

Quarterback Max Weidner has thrown for 1,478 yards and 21 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He's also rushed for 559 yards and 10 scores.

Zach Schroeder has 1,267 yards and 14 TDs with Daltin Christinsen adding 806 yards and 11 scores.

Weidner's top targets have been senior wideout Mitchell Schlangen, who has 23 catches for 500 yards and 10 TDs. Sam Oehrlein has 12 catches for 295 yards and Luke Johnson and Schroeder each had 17 receptions.

"They run out of the shotgun and do some shifting," Paul Peterson said. "When they get into the goal-line set, they run kind of like our packed-in wedge. They do a variety of things so we've had to prepare for multiple of sets and multiple plays. They like to shuttle in different running backs and they're pretty physical, fast runners.

"We haven't seen an offense like that. Maybe a little like Ottertail Central, but OTC wasn't as wide open. They were trying to run the ball, where Paynesville is trying to run and pass."

Paynesville's two losses this season were a season-opening 30-20 defeat by Class 1A's No. 2-ranked BOLD and a 47-14 loss to Class 3A's top-ranked Pierz. Both teams are playing in the state tournament.

"If our kids are playing well on defense, and offensively we're not turning over the ball, that gives us a chance to win games," Meagher said. "We've had a couple of losses on the year where we've been beaten. At the end of the day, it seems like a different kid steps up and makes a play. It's not always the same guys. If we're going to find a way to beat Pillager, it's going to take a full concerted team effort."

BOLD will be playing Ottertail Central in the Class 1A quarterfinal. It was OTC that handed Pillager its lone loss of the season.

"Comparing us with some of the teams that they've played, Pierz likes to run the ball too and they were able to do that against Paynesville and they were very patient with it," Peterson said. "Watching Minnewaska, they were running the ball well, too, but then they gave up a couple of quick touchdowns and got out of what they do.

"We have to be fundamentally sound and not beat Pillager. We don't want to turn the ball over and miss blocks. We want to do what we did against Osakis. If we can do that, sustain drives, and use our offense as another defense, I think we'll be fine."

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
(218) 855-5856
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