VERNDALE -- The unbeaten Verndale Pirates football team gave head coach Mike Mahlen a relaxing 57th birthday present Tuesday.
The top-ranked Nine-Man team in the state destroyed the eighth-seeded Eagle Valley Rebels 55-12 in the quarterfinals of the Section 4, Nine-Man playoffs.
They did it with a suffocating defense holding the Rebels to 36 total yards in the first half. Eagle Valley recorded two first downs in that time. Six of its first-half possessions were four plays or less. Bud Willis recovered a fumble to end one drive after two plays.
The Rebels punted six times in the first half. Junior Isaac Johnson returned the first one 70 yards for a 16-0 Verndale lead.
"We had the reverse on going toward the left," said Johnson. "It just happened that way. Cory (Umland) got it and reversed to me and it was just great blocking along the sideline. It was wide open."
Verndale's offense piled up 409 offensive yards, 340 on the ground. The Pirates scored on their first seven possessions. Their dominance resulted in a 48-0 first-half lead.
Verndale 55, Eagle Valley 12
The stat: The Pirates held EVHS to 36 total yards in the first half.
Next: Semifinals, vs. Holy Trinity, 1 p.m. Saturday
From there it was over. Both squads played their second string the entire second half. For the Pirates it was just what they and starting quarterback Cory Umland needed.
"Cory's got a bad shoulder and he tried to throw a little bit but he didn't have it," said Mahlen. "Hopefully, we get him ready to go because we need everybody."
Umland started the game and scored the first touchdown on a 1-yard plunge. After Johnson's punt return, he replaced Umland at quarterback midway through the first quarter and scored on a 1-yard run.
Junior tailback Tyler Fisher busted through the line of scrimmage in the first quarter. After breaking five tackles, Fisher made it to the secondary, only to have the ball pop out of his hands. Teammate Brad Erckenbrack picked up the loose ball on the bounce and darted 20 more yards for the touchdown.
"Games like this are easier on the coach," said Mahlen. "I know the fans don't like it. We got all the bounces. We fumbled twice, one we got an extra point off it, and the other we score a touchdown. That would be nice if that happened in a 6-6 game."
Fisher finished what he started on Verndale's next possession with two runs for 22 yards and a score. Next was Tyler Fuller's turn as he turned the corner and accelerated for a 46-yard score.
After the Willis fumble recovery, Johnson scored again from 10 yards out for the final first-half score.
Collecting the Pirates' second-half score was Casey Greer on a 1-yard dive.
"This was great," said Johnson. "I didn't think we would win by this much. It seemed to be over in the middle of the second quarter. All the starters were done by then. It was a fun game, a lot of scoring."
It's the 22nd straight win for the Pirates, who have not lost since the 2001 section semifinals. The win gives Mahlen 272 for his career.
"We've been preaching to get our defense better the last four weeks," said Mahlen. "We really haven't played better. We make big plays on offense, but we needed to step up on defense and we did (Tuesday). I saw some hitting and I saw a defense reminiscent of last year a little bit."
Eagle Valley 0 0 6 6 -- 12
Verndale 29 19 7 0 -- 55
V-Cory Umland 4 run (Umland run) 8:42
V-Isaac Johnson 70 punt return (Wyatt Carr fumble recovery) 5:27
V-Johnson 1 run (pass failed) 2:41
V-Brad Erckenbrack 20 fumble recovery (Carr kick) :31
V-Tyler Fisher 4 run (David Cannon kick) 11:33
V-Tyler Fuller 46 run (kick failed) 9:03
V-Johnson 10 run (kick failed) 7:25
V-Casey Greer 1 run (Carr kick) 8:14
EV-Wade Johnson 1 run (run failed) 4:30
EV-Chris Miller (pass failed) 4:27
Rushes-yards -- EV 28-145; V 43-340
Pass comp-att-int-yards -- EV 9-16-51; V 5-10-1-69
Total offense -- EV 44-196; V 53-409
Rushing -- V-Tyler Fisher 8-86, Tyler Fuller 3-68, Cory Umland 2-10, Tom Adamietz 15-79, Isaac Johnson 3-18, Casey Greer 6-37, Matt Fisher 3-12, Dan Adamietz 2-10; EV-Chris Miller 6-69
Passing -- V-Umland 1-3-15, Johnson 2-3-22, John Kempe 2-4-32; EV-David Winkler 7-13-40
Receiving -- V Johnson 2-15, Brad Erckenbrack 1-11, Spencer Greer 1-11, Nathan Runyan 1-28, David Cannon 1-4, EV-Steven Harren 3-19
Overall -- V 9-0, EV 1-8. Next game -- No. 1 Verndale hosts No. 5 Holy Trinity in Section 4, Nine-Man semifinals 1 p.m. Saturday.
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