If you can operate a stopwatch and show up at the Central Lakes College Raiders home football opener Saturday at 1:30 p.m., chances are that you'll be able to tell who's winning the game without looking up at the scoreboard.
Time of possession will reveal nearly as much as the score when the Raiders, 1-1 overall, go up against North Division rival Vermilion.
"We're going to look to control the ball," said Raider head coach Mike Degen as he put the pencil to his game plan. "Vermilion is known to have big-play people and what we need to do is keep the ball away from their offense. We'll keep doing our thing and hopefully we'll get some points out of it. More importantly, when we control the ball we keep it out of their hands."
During the first two games of the season, a 27-20 win over Mesabi and a 12-7 loss to Hibbing, the Raiders' defense has given the offense good field position. This week, CLC will have to capitalize on those opportunities if it is to win.
"We need to take advantage of the positions our defense has been putting us in," said Degen. "In our last game we had some outstanding opportunities that we didn't take advantage of. We need to capitalize on turnovers. We're getting to the point in the season where we can start to look for our team to jell."
Vermilion's big-play offense relies on a passing game that has been outstanding. According to Degen, the key to playing successful defense will be in how the Raiders' defensive backs perform.
One of those Raider backs, Trevor Gross, has already picked off four passes, including one that he returned for a touchdown. Gross and his teammates will be looking for every opportunity to come up with that kind of big play against Vermilion.
"Look for Vermilion to be passing about 75 percent of the time," said Degen. "They'll drop back and send three and four receivers out. There's nothing fancy about their attack; they just let their guys go and run. Our defensive backs are going to have to stay at home and stay with those receivers."
The Raiders' defense has come up with some big plays inside the red zone, showing they have the talent and size to stop opposing offenses in short-yardage situations.
"Teams haven't been able to run on us inside when we're on goal-line defense," said Degen. "We pack in those three, 300-pounders across the middle and offenses haven't been able to run on us. So far this year, we've already had three goal-line stands."
If, and when Vermilion scores, look for the Ironmen to do it quickly and through the air rather than grinding out yardage on the ground.
The Raiders' offense will be looking to control the ball by relying on the versatility of quarterback Matt Yde and the reliability of running back Matt Peterson.
"Matt Peterson is leading the Southern Division in rushing yards," said Degen. "He's already got 188 yards on 47 carries in just two games. He hasn't broken any long ones yet but it's just a matter of time before he starts breaking them."
Degen will also be counting on improvement in the team's passing game in order to successfully move the ball against Vermilion.
"We've looked at film from our previous games and we're going to have to get better play action fakes," said Degen. "This week, we're going to ask our quarterback to set quicker and our receivers to run better routes.
"Top to bottom, we'll be looking to improve on the small things. I think you'll start seeing Matt Steffen get the ball more. He was an All-Region 13 tight end last year. We haven't been able to get him the ball but we're looking to start."
The effectiveness of the passing game will also depend on the reads and decisions made by Yde. "We'll have Matt running play action passes and rolling out," said Degen. "He's a threat to run any time. The linebackers are so much faster in college and it takes a while to get used to reading them."
Controlling the ball and the clock may be easier said than done. The Vermilion team has shown a stinginess on defense that equals the explosiveness of its offense.
"Vermilion has only given up about 70 yards rushing in two games," said Degen. "So that's a phenomenal defense we'll be facing this week. We'll be facing quite a challenge."
Quarterback: Matt Yde.
Running backs: Nick O'Reilly (second year, also projected as a receiver), Matt Peterson, Calvin Reid, Jason Gross, Phillip Rasset, Scott Imgrund, Jason Smalls (also defensive end).
Linebackers: Nathan Heim (second year), Ryan Mallak, Jake Fredrickson, Mike Voss, Justin Leonard, John Schultz.
Receivers: Brock Boynton, Trevor Schwirtz, Ryan Ward (second year), Matt Steffen (second year), Dan Zavala.
Defensive backs: Jeffrey Reddick (second year), Trevor Gross, Derrick Ackerman, Malcolm Harmon (second year), Philip Shogren.
Linemen: Byron Hunter (second year), Shawn Kral (second year), Eric Hoppe, John Sobiech (second year), Derick Chrast, Justin Frank, Craig Lush (also linebacker), Edward Word (second year), Jared Cowles, Brandon Jones, Nick Froehling, Dan Zavala.
Results from Sept. 1
Northland 15, Ridgewater 0
Results from Sept. 2
Rochester 19, Vermilion 15
Hibbing 12, Central Lakes 7
Minnesota West 13, Itasca 6
Mesabi Range 48, Fergus Falls 20
Standings Conf Rec Overall Rec Points
Rochester 0-0 2-0 2
Central Lakes 0-0 1-1 1
Fergus Falls 0-0 1-1 1
Ridgewater 0-0 1-1 1
Minnesota West 0-0 1-1 1
Standings Conf Rec Overall Rec Points
Vermilion 0-0 1-1 1
Hibbing 0-0 1-1 1
Mesabi Range 0-0 1-1 1
Northland 0-0 1-1 1
Itasca 0-0 0-2 0
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