With the end of the regular season looming, the Brainerd Warriors have just seven days of practice to prepare for two of their biggest rivals.
On Friday the Warriors (5-1) travel to Alexandria to square off against the 4-2 Cardinals. On Wednesday the twice-beaten Sartell Sabres will close out the regular season at Brainerd.
Friday's game will have an effect on the Central Lakes Conference and Section 8-5A races. Brainerd and Alexandria have three conference losses between them and are battling for a high seed in the 8-5A playoffs, which begin Oct. 23.
"There isn't any question this is a big section game," Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. "It's a three-point game for both of us. It will have quite a bit to do with the seedings, which won't be completed until Wednesday about 9:30 p.m."
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Citizens Field, Alexandria
The series: Brainerd leads the series 28-20. Alexandria won 36-33 in the 2006 regular season.
Brainerd, riding a five-game win streak, enters the game with 12 section points, Alexandria with 10. Unless St. Cloud Tech loses one or both of its last two games it will secure the conference title and No. 1 seed, with Brainerd, Alexandria and Buffalo battling to secure one of the top four seeds.
Alexandria has had two close losses, 22-21 to Sartell and 27-20 to Willmar. The Cardinals rely on rushing the ball behind an offensive line that averages 246 pounds and includes 304-pound tackle Bryant Pearson. Running backs Jack Trebelhorn and Nathan Kelly and quarterback Dillon Kelley, collectively, have rushed for more than 1,800 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Cardinals haven't passed frequently but Alexandria coach Denny Kalpin is seeking more balance.
"We threw three times (against Moorhead), but we ran 75 plays," Kalpin said. "Last week against Little Falls (30-6 victory) we didn't want to throw much. We didn't have to against Bemidji (22-0 win) so we've had some games where we didn't have to throw. We're certainly looking for more balance in our attack, that's for sure."
Stolski said the Cardinals are a "classic wing-T team."
"They just line up and come right smack at you," he added. "It's going to be a great challenge for our defense, but we're looking forward to the challenge.
"If we can't stop them that rushing game will just control the football. We will need to make some stops so we can get the ball back."
Brainerd's defense has been splendid, allowing an average of just 213 yards and 12 points per game. It has forced 15 turnovers.
Offensively, for the first time in years, the Warriors have passed better than they have run. Quarterback Nate Schaefbauer has thrown for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns, one of the best seasons by a Warrior quarterback in program history. He has capitalized on the skill of receivers Bronson Shepherd, Turner Johnson and Mike Gervenak.
"(Schaefbauer) throws very well," Kalpin said, "and he's got some tremendous receivers. Shepherd is very good, and he's not the only one.
"We hope to keep it close. They've got a lot of weapons. We'll see what we can do. It looks like we could be paired up again down the road."
Alexandria won 36-33 last year, rallying from 14-0 and 26-22 deficits.
"It's an Alexandria-Brainerd football game," Stolski said. "Those games usually go right down to the wire, and those are fun. We respect the Alexandria program and I suspect they respect ours. We have real good football games with them."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 855-5861.
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