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High School Football: Big 2nd half on ground gives Warriors 1st winning season since 2018

Brainerd hosts Buffalo Oct. 19

Brainerd's Damen Bentho runs the ball in for a touchdown against Buffalo on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at Brainerd.
Brainerd's Damen Bentho runs the ball in for a touchdown against Buffalo on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Damien Bentho owned senior night Wednesday, Oct. 19.

The senior running back rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns, including 109 rushing yards in the second half, to help the Brainerd Warriors finish the regular season with a 27-7 win over Buffalo.

Bentho’s big day on the ground put him over 1,000 yards for the season.

“At the end of the second quarter, I was starting to feel really confident,” Bentho said. “I did not want to slow down. It was my last game (at Adamson Field), so I might as well give it everything I have.”

The Warriors defense pitched a shutout in the second half as the Warriors outscored the Bison 17-0 in the last two quarters.

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“We just had great leadership,” Warriors head coach Jason Freed said. “We talked about it at halftime that we don’t need to panic and we’ve been in these situations before. And I think our kids have matured a lot and we made some slight adjustments on both offense and defense, which made a difference.”

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Bentho’s first score came on the first play of the second quarter on a 2-yard run to put Brainerd ahead 7-0.

The Warriors defense turned Buffalo over three times in the first half. Sean Holbrook picked off Bison quarterback Grady Guida on the first drive.

On Buffalo’s second drive, Dylan Gross intercepted a ball and ran into the end zone for what looked like a defensive touchdown, but it was called back for a block-in-the-back penalty.

Buffalo’s third drive, ended when on a fourth and 12 they tried a lateral play which they fumbled and Gross recovered.

“I thought our kids did a good job of not giving up big plays,” Freed said. “Buffalo was doing some things to move the sticks and I think the biggest thing is sometimes you lose your patience on defense, but I thought our kids stayed patient and they took advantage of the opportunities and made stops when we had to make stops.”

The Bison were able to tie the game with 1:49 left in the second quarter when Guida found his favorite target of the evening Zach Salonek for a 2-yard touchdown.

Salonek finished with eight catches and 49 yards for the Bison. Guida was 19-for-38 for 168 yards and one touchdown.

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Brainerd managed a good two-minute drive, which was capped by a Bennett Bernander 33-yard field goal to give the Warriors a 10-7 halftime advantage.

“We work on those things throughout the year and they are going to be moments where you have to execute a two-minute drive,” Freed said. “It was probably our best night overall on special teams, but I thought our kicking game was great.”

Brainerd's Sean Holbrook runs with the ball against Buffalo on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at Brainerd.
Brainerd's Sean Holbrook runs with the ball against Buffalo on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

After going three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, the Warriors completed three scoring drives in the second half.

Bentho scored his second touchdown on a 5-yard run to give the Warriors a 17-7 lead with 2:46 left in the third quarter.

“The big thing was our offensive line was able to get some movement and then Damien just ran hard,” Freed said. “He ran like a young man that was possessed. He’s been one of go-to leaders and one of our go-to guys on offense all year and I think his energy and speed he brings gets everyone else on offense fired up.”

Brainerd capped another drive off with Gross running it in from 1-yard out to make it 24-7 with 8:07 left.

With two minutes left, Bernander nailed a 36-yard field goal to ice the win for the Warriors.

Brainerd quarterback Marcello Getty threw for 106 yards on 10-of-16 passing. Eli Hoelz caught five passes for 59 yards and Jake Merseth hauled in four passes for 43 yards for the Warriors passing game.

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The win gives Brainerd its first winning season since 2018 and Freed’s first winning season in Brainerd.

“It shows the grit we have,” Bentho said. “We were here with Freed, his first head coaching season, when we had one win. Over the years, we just kept growing together and became a family.”

Brainerd will know its seed for the Class 6A Playoffs Thursday, but won’t know its opponent until Friday.

“It’s our first winning season since 2018 and that’s a hats off to the seniors,” Freed said. “There’s been so many hurdles and mountains we’ve had to get over this year and to be able to come back and respond is a great testament to our seniors.”

Brainerd's Dylan Gross makes an interception against Buffalo on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at Brainerd.
Brainerd's Dylan Gross makes an interception against Buffalo on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Buffalo 0 7 0 0 — 7

Brainerd 0 10 7 10 — 27

Second quarterBrd-Damien Bentho 2-yard run (Bennett Bernander kick) 11:54

Buf-Zach Salonek 2-yard pass from Grady Guida (CJ Fogelquist kick) 1:49

Brd-Bennett Bernander 33-yard field goal 0:58

Third quarter

Brd-Bentho 5-yard run (Bernander kick) 2:46

Fourth quarter

Brd-Dylan Gross 1-yard run (Bernander kick) 8:07

Brd-Bennett Bernander 36-yard field goal 1:56

Team statistics

Rushes-yards: Brd 41-178, Buf 21-106

Pass comp-att-int-yds: Brd 10-19-1-106, Buf 19-38-2-168

Total offense: Brd 60-284, Buf 59-275

Individual leaders

Rushing: Brd-Damien Bentho 28-167, Dylan Gross 6-10; Buf-Grady Guida 13-58, Noah Wittke 9-49

Passing: Brd-Marcello Getty 10-19-106; Buf-Grady Guida 19-38-168

Receiving: Brd-Eli Hoelz 5-59, Jake Merseth 4-43; Buf-Ty Kosek 6-69, Isaiah Ingram 4-51, Zach Salonek 8-49

Warriors 27, Buffalo 7

Key: Damien Bentho rushes for 167 yards.
Overall: Brd 5-3, Buf 2-6.
Next: Brainerd in Class 6A Playoffs Friday, Oct. 28.

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or conrad.engstrom@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.

Started at the Dispatch in June of 2019.
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