One of the Brainerd Warriors better football rivalries resumes 2 p.m. Saturday when the Cambridge Bluejackets visit Adamson Field for a Section 8, Class 5A semifinal playoff game.
Cambridge formerly was a member of the Central Lakes Conference, during which time it beat Brainerd six of seven times. In the 1990s, the teams played five times for the section championship, with the Warriors winning twice.
From 1997 through 2000, the Bluejackets were a 4A school. The last two years they have been in Section 8, Class 5A.
"We always enjoyed playing Cambridge, when George Larson was there, he's an old friend, and now with Todd Larkin," Warriors head coach Ron Stolski said. "We haven't seen them the last few years, but we do scrimmage each other every year at the beginning of the season."
Larkin is in his second year as Cambridge head coach, replacing Larson, who retired as the winningest coach in Minnesota State High School history with 307 wins.
The fourth-seeded Bluejackets enter Saturday's contest against the top-seeded and unbeaten Warriors with a 5-4 record. In the quarterfinals, they thumped Moorhead 40-15 as running back Phil Porta mashed the Spuds for 302 yards and four touchdowns.
On the season, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Porta has rushed for 1,505 yards and 22 touchdowns. He has scored two-thirds of the Bluejackets' points.
"He touches the ball 20-30 times a game," Larkin said. "Like any other back, he's only as good as his blockers, but when he gets in the open field he's a good runner. He's got some strength and good vision. He reads his blocks."
Porta helps the Bluejackets average 22 points a game.
"Porta is one of the top backs in the state, he has been for a couple of years," Stolski said. "He's big, fast, cuts, he's outstanding."
Larkin said Porta receives considerable attention, and deservedly so, but Larkin said the Bluejackets' strength has been a defense that allows an average of 15.4 points.
"Our defensive coordinator, Mike Hennen, has put together a group of kids who play hard," Larkin said. "They fly to the football and tackle well."
Brainerd also flies to the football and tackles well. The Warriors have surrendered just 9 points and 205 yards a game.
In a 28-6 quarterfinal victory over St. Cloud Apollo, linebacker Chad Weiss had 20 tackles, defensive back Kevin Mertens 12 and linebacker Fred Weiss 11. Season tackle leaders are Fred Weiss with 140, Chad Weiss 132 and Jake Phillips 105.
Offensively, Brainerd is averaging 28 points and 323 total yards. Quarterback Chris Klabo has rushed for 892 yards and passed for 623. Running back Luke Furda has gained 824 yards and leads the team in scoring with 64 points. Justin Mueller is the leading receiver with 21 catches and eight scores.
"From watching the tape, and from what our scouts tell us, Brainerd has a few new wrinkles," Larkin said. "They have some wrinkles in their defense that we haven't seen in the Cambridge-Brainerd rivalry.
"We're looking forward to it. We hope to come up there and be competitive. Brainerd, at 9-0, is a great football team. We hope to lace it up and give them a football game."
Brainerd may be near full strength for the first time in weeks.
Mueller suffered a sprained knee Tuesday but should play. Linebacker Andy Pickar is recovering from an ankle injury. Center Alex Hondl, who missed most of the Bemidji game and all of the Apollo game, may return from an ankle sprain. Defensive back Pat Kiffmeyer, who has missed three games, may return from a high ankle sprain.
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