Thanks to a 37-0 blanking at the hands of the Duluth-Superior Shoremen, the Brainerd Lumberjacks have had to suffer with the bitter taste of defeat in the back of their throats since June 27 with no way to assuage the loss.
"It definitely put a bitter taste in the coach's and player's mouths," Lumberjacks coach J. J. Kern said. "Expect to see a little bit more fire from the team because we don't like the feeling of losing."
The loss was the Lumberjacks' third in their inaugural season. The first came in the franchise opener and the other to the Shoremen at home June 13th. The June 27 loss, however, was the only time the Lumberjacks have beem behind by more than two touchdowns all season long.
"When things are stacked against you - you're behind, on the road, and shorthanded - you just have to stick together," said Kern.
The Lumberjacks also have stuck through numerous injuries to key players throughout the season. Most notable are running back Shawn "Crazy Legs" Nelson and defensive lineman Chris Foy.
Foy is listed as questionable following a broken foot on May 30th against the Northern Terror, while Nelson is not ready to return.
"We were really hoping Nelson was going to be able to come back, but it's looking doubtful because he broke his foot and tore some tendons."
Like any team faced with adversity, the Lumberjacks were forced to grow as a team.
"I'm excited that we are a lot better and a lot deeper of a team now," Kern said. "We've made it through the injuries and have players that weren't getting many minutes that are now accustomed to playing."
Offensively, the Lumberjacks have had to make adjustments to compensate for the injuries, and to take advantage of back-up players like running backs Shawn Peoples and Tony Martin staking a claim on the share of the carries for the Lumberjacks. Kern has also expanded the play book to tailor it to his starting quarterback, Karson Pike.
"We put in a few plays where we will be taking advantage of Pike's mobility because he is a very athletic player," Kern said.
Defensively, Brainerd relies upon a basic defense that has worked almost to perfection.
"With this being our first year, I feel that it is more important to know where we're at than try to trick somebody" Kern said in regards to the defense.
After three weeks, the Lumberjacks will finally return to the field looking to erase the loss.
"The team is excited to get back," Kern said. "Last time we played a little short handed, and we're ready to get back on a winning track."
Kern and the Lumberjacks will face off against the Minneapolis Maulers - the longest tenured team in semi-pro football in Minnesota.
"For years, they were the standard of semi-pro football," Kern said. "I played for them back in 2002-2003, but they have had a lot of turnover there so there's not a lot of familiar players or coaches from when I played for them."
The winner will advance to the Semi-Pro Football League Championship to be held in Brainerd on July 25th at 6 p.m. with a consolation game to be played as well. A win would set up a potential rematch with either the Screaming Eagles or the Rochester Giants.
Saturday's semifinal match-up with the Maulers will be held at Harvey Shew Field beginning at 6 p.m.
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