Clay Cottrell, Shylo Moyer and John Kohlhase might be considered Verndale's version of the unknown soldiers.
Who are they?
They are the reason Verndale is ranked No. 2 in Nine-Man, earned the No. 1 seed in the Section 4 playoffs and are 9-0 heading into Friday's section championship game at the Fargodome.
Those three, along with senior tight ends Dan Weiher and Ben Walsvik, have paved the way for the Pirates to average 317 rushing yards a game and outscore opponents 46.9 to 11.4.
"Their linemen are good and they move you," said Eagle Valley head coach John Sieling, whose job it will be to devise a plan to stop that running attack.
When the teams last met Verndale ran for 461 yards in a 46-22 victory Oct. 3.
Led by senior Matt Moenkedick's 1,583 yards and 16 touchdowns, Verndale has run through and around opponents for 2,857 yards.
Junior fullback Amos Schmidt has 563 yards and eight touchdowns and sophomore speedster Zack Meidinger has 293 yards and three scores.
"You have to stop Moenkedick at the line of scrimmage because if he gets into your secondary he breaks tackles and away he goes," said Sieling. "Our game plan will be to try and slow him down at the line and fill those 5-yard wide holes their line produces."
Moenkedick carried the ball 34 times for 259 yards and three touchdowns against Eagle Valley.
"The line has done an outstanding job of blocking for us and the backs are blocking for each other," said Verndale coach Mike Mahlen. "Having that experience back was key. With Sam (Moenkedick) and Ethan (Kern), two big-play guys gone, we weren't quite sure if we were going to be able to run the ball as well as we did last year. So far we're running the ball as well. The offensive line is doing a better job."
When asked how he would stop Verndale's running game Sieling replied with a question. "How have other teams stopped them?"
The answer is nobody has.
That's a good thing for Verndale, which has struggled with the passing game. Verndale has attempted 33 passes all season for 196 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
The Rebels began the season throwing the ball 20 times a game. That has changed with the emergence of senior tailback Julius Stone.
"The first game of the year he rushed for 30 yards," Sieling said. "The second game he rushed for 95. Ever since he has gone over 100 yards every game. He had 261 yards against Bertha and 272 against Ashby the second time. For a team that never used to run the ball that's suddenly become our main threat."
The Rebels' other threat is quarterback Devon Egeness. He ran for a touchdown and threw for two more against the Pirates. He's passed for about 800 yards and rushed for about 700.
"Our quarterback is a gifted athlete, who can throw the ball well and runs well," Sieling said. "His numbers are through nine games because Brandon-Evansville forfeited. He's an athlete and anytime you put an athlete out there he's going to make plays."
Dillon Lundin is the top receiving target. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound wideout, caught two touchdown passes against the Pirates.
"You have to contain their quarterback, who can run and throw," said Mahlen. "Stone, their tailback, is not a big kid, but he's a good, hard runner. We have to gang-tackle him. He had 270-plus yards against Hillcrest. The first time he got 150 yards against us. We have to try and contain him and the quarterback."
If Verndale can do that the Pirates will return to the state tournament.
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.