Because of proximity, Friday's matchup between the Bertha-Hewitt Bears and Verndale Pirates is still a rivalry game.
Bears head coach Rick Harig hopes to rekindle the competitive aspect of it when his 3-0 team hosts the fourth-ranked and unbeaten Pirates.
The last time B-H defeated Verndale was Oct. 7, 2005. Since then, it's been all Pirates, who have won four straight lopsided games. Last year, the Pirates beat the Bears 40-6 on their way to a perfect regular season. Verndale has won 14-straight regular season games.
"I would say we're more confident than we've been in the last three years going in," said Harig. "We finally have seniors. The majority of this group has started since they were sophomores. We're a team now that has six or seven seniors and two or three juniors on the field at any given time."
Harig said his players have confidence going into the Pheasant Conference clash. B-H opened with a 34-14 win over Hancock, snuck by Hillcrest Lutheran Academy 22-18 on the road and dominated Underwood 34-8.
"That Hillcrest win was huge," Harig said. "That's probably the best team we've beaten since 2005 and that's not to take anything away from the couple of wins we've had since then, but Hillcrest is a solid 6-2 or 5-3 team every year.
"It was an important win for us because it showed the players that we can play with those top-tier teams in our conference."
The Bears are averaging 30 points a game, while allowing 13.3. The Pirates are averaging 45.3 points a game, while limiting opponents to 15.3 points.
That last number is a bit deceiving as Verndale has only giving up six first-half points. It has outscored opponents 94-6 in the first half.
"We didn't even get a first down in the scrimmage against them," Harig said about Verndale's defense.
So how good is Verndale after three straight wins against opponents with a combined 0-9 record?
"We don't know," said Pirates head coach Mike Mahlen. "Our schedule is set up where we played probably the three bottom teams in our conference. The first game our starters played a quarter. The second game they played a half.
"We don't know where we're at. I think we'll find out this week."
The Bears are led by Jake Braaten again this season, but quarterback Jared Hoemberg is a year improved and sophomore Matthew Frethem is providing offensive punch.
"I expected this group to be better last year, but they had a few injuries that got to them," said Mahlen. "Hoemberg makes things happen for them. He is a go-to guy. I think last year Jared played quarterback for the first time in the second half against us and Braaten was a little bit dinged up. He wasn't at full strength."
Verndale's Zack Meidinger has led the rushing assault with 446 yards and six rushing touchdowns on just 27 carries for a 16.5 yards-per-carry average. Meidinger also has a touchdown reception and returned an interception 80 yards for a score.
Amos Schmidt has rushed for 328 yards and five scores on 40 carries (8.2 average).
Dustin Motschenbacher busted onto the scene last week in a 52-12 win over Ashby with 120 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries.
"You have to be very disciplined," said Harig. "Their big plays come when guys are trying to over do things. A few years ago I learned you let them go 4 or 5 yards at a time and hope they make a mistake instead of giving them 60-yard plays by over pursuing.
"We'll be preaching - this is your job. You have to stay here and do your job and don't worry if you're not in on the tackle."
jeremy millsop, sports writer, may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5856.
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