As the Brainerd Warriors go deeper into the postseason, the opposition will be more competitive.
That should be the case Saturday when third-seeded Brainerd travels to No. 2 Buffalo to face the Bison in the Section 8-5A semifinals.
Buffalo has won seven straight since its only loss, 35-14 to St. Michael-Albertville, and trampled Alexandria 31-7 in the opening round of the section while Brainerd thrashed Elk River 55-7.
The Bison are on a tear, averaging 33.2 points while yielding an average of 11.8.
Brainerd running back Colby Ring burst through Elk River defenders as Mitch Weideman (78) blocked in the Section 8-5A opening round Tuesday. Ring gained 115 yards, raising his season total to 1,032. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Taylor Vick leads a powerful Buffalo running game with 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. Josh Gaughan has 629 yards and eight scores, Austin Perkins has 431 yards and four TDs and Kaleb Stevens has 237 yards and six scores.
Quarterback Brooks Beilke complements the run, completing 61 percent of his passes (58-95) for 760 yards and four TDs.
"They're a team that was in the spread, and now they're in the wing-T," Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. "With a veteran team, they really come at you hard with the rushing game. It will be a real challenge for us defensively. And they pass effectively."
This Brainerd team has developed into another in a long line of quality Warrior squads.
Brainerd has won seven of its last eight games with a running game led by Colby Ring, who has gained 1,032 yards and scored 19 TDs. Quarterback Scott Ramey complements Ring, completing 69 of 117 passes (.590) for 1,149 yards with nine TDs and just four interceptions. Ramey has added 506 yards rushing and seven TDs.
Warriors vs. Buffalo
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Buffalo Middle School Stadium, Buffalo
The series: Brainerd leads 1-0. Brainerd won 47-22 in the 2005 section playoffs.
Mike Gervenak leads the receivers with 23 catches for 317 yards and three TDs. Kyle Crocker, also a starting defensive back, has emerged as a big-play receiver with 19 catches for 320 yards and five TDs. Ben Gervais, with 10 catches, is the only other receiver in double digits.
"I thought in the Elk River game, our offensive line in particular played really well," Stolski said. "Of course, that helps our balance. And it helps for us to get some short fields.
"We don't pass as much as one would think we do, even me. We only threw (11) times the other night. When we have been throwing, particularly the long ball, it's been very effective.
"The fact that we see a lot of defenses geared to defend our option game gives us a lot of man coverage, and we like man coverage because we've got a whole bunch of receivers who can play.
"Our quarterback is playing very well. We've had good protection. You could count the sacks we've had on one hand this year. That's been true over the last three or four years."
Defensively, the Warriors have been as effective as they have been offensively, allowing 11.8 points and 261.7 yards. They have forced 21 turnovers.
"Yards are always kind of a deceiving thing," Stolski said. "What you want to do is look at how many points the other guy got, so we've been pleased with how the defense has grown. Our defense has gotten a lot of takeaways and that gives us good field position."
Special teams are another part of Brainerd's arsenal. Crocker has averaged 22.7 yards per punt return and 26.1 per kickoff, including a 94-yard TD. Desmond Janousek has averaged 32.2 yards per kickoff with a 90-yard TD. Linebacker Alex Rahn has blocked three punts.
"I can't recall in recent years when we've had as many big special teams plays, two kickoff returns of 90 yards or more for a score, and long punt returns," Stolski said. "And, I can't remember when we've had a player with three punt blocks.
"In all phases of the game we've been pretty solid. I think that's not only a tribute to the kids, but a tribute to the coaches who are responsible for those particular areas."
Warriors running back Nate Smolke, who suffered a shoulder injury against Sartell, is out for the season.
"Nate did a lot good things for us," Stolski said. "He was a receiver out of the backfield, a good blocker, and an effective runner. Jon Weise has been steady as a rock all season and I think Carsten Nelson is coming along."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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