Praise has alluded the names Brady Peacock, Beau Johnson, Ben Ramsey, Mike Pettit and Adam Manlick.
If the Pillager Huskies advance to the Class 1A state football tournament, those five will be a big reason.
Those five players man the Huskies’ offensive line. They have paved the way for Pillager to rush for 3,436 yards and 61 touchdowns. Pillager has averaged 8.6 yards per carry. The line also has given quarterback Connor Uselman time to throw for 708 yards and six touchdowns.
Their second biggest test of the season will come at 12:30 p.m. Friday when they face the defense of the Browerville Tigers in the Section 6-1A championship.
“Browerville has been tough on everybody that they play,” said Pillager head coach Lowell Scearcy. “They are a good program. Their kids are very much into the weight room. They have a lot of strong, aggressive kids. They’ve had good teams for a lot of years.”
Browerville has knocked Pillager out of the section tournament twice in four years, including last year’s 56-6 defeat in the section semifinals. Pillager has lost four straight to Browerville and last beat the Tigers in the 2007 section quarterfinals.
“The big thing about high school football is year-to-year it’s completely different,” said Browerville head coach Wayne Petermeier. “We knew they were an awfully young football team last year and playoff experience does help you quite a bit. They’re a year older and they have a few senior leaders who have been successful in other sports.”
Not as successful as this football season. Pillager has won nine straight after falling to top-ranked Mahnomen in the season opener.
Pillager has outscored opponents 46.1-18.7. Pillager’s defense is led by Mitch Leifermann’s 71 tackles and four sacks. Cody Beach has six sacks and Richards five sacks and 44 tackles. Devrin House has four interceptions and four pass break-ups.
The Huskies have recovered 26 fumbles and intercepted 11 passes.
The Huskies eliminated West Central and Pine River-Backus by a combined 105-21 score in their two playoff games.
“They’re big up front with a couple of nice-sized linemen,” Petermeier said. “They seem to move OK. They have a lot more speed than us. We’re going to have to stop them first. That’s been a problem of ours this year. It seems to take us one or two series before we can settle down and play defense.
“Pillager isn’t a team we can get behind right away. They have some fast kids and we can’t get down to them because we aren’t a fast-scoring team.”
Petermeier said his team enjoys long, methodical drives to eat up clock. The Tigers averaged 25.6 points a game, while allowing 13.7.
After dropping its first two games of the season — 34-6 to Browerville and 22-15 to Upsala/Swanville, both of whom are playing in Class 2A section finals — Browerville has won eight straight. The Tigers eliminated New York Mills 42-13 and Ottertail Central 28-18.
“They’re not real big,” Scearcy said of Browerville. “We watched them play Saturday and they were an average-size team. They don’t have any 300-pounders or that type of thing. They were average-sized kids, but they’re well-coached and skilled.
“They have a very good quarterback and he’s someone we will have to contend with. He can run and throw the ball. They like to run the veer offense, but they’ll also line up in a spread and try to turn him loose to run or throw. Containing him will be our No. 1 priority.”
Petermeier called his quarterback, Mitchell Heid, an all-around, three-sport athlete, who helped Browerville’s basketball team to the state tournament last year. He also was a pitcher and shortstop on the baseball team.
“He throws the ball very well and we have two or three targets that are 6-foot-3 and can go up and get the football,” Petermeier said. “That’s new for us. We didn’t throw the ball very much until this year. When we need to we can, but we’re still a team that wants to run the veer and pound the ball and keep the clock moving. Passing stops the clock and when it stops that’s not good for us.”
Not with Pillager’s big-play ability. Travis Richards has rushed for 1,100 yards and 21 touchdowns on 112 carries (10.0 yards-per-carry average). Jeff Flickinger has 797 yards and 16 touchdowns on 91 carries (8.8 average). Devin Strack has scored 13 touchdowns and rushed for 713 yards on 58 carries (12.3 average). Strack has also caught 12 passes for 227 yards and a score.
Devrin House has eight receptions for 193 yards and four scores.
But when it comes to football everything starts with the line.
“We have four starters back from last year,” said Scearcy. “That experience of working together has helped us pick up blitzes and helps us make blocking calls when they have to make the call at the line. Hopefully their experience will come through Friday.”