VERNDALE -- It's been three years filled with disappointing season-ending losses, but this fall the Verndale Pirates find themselves where they want to be.
In 1997 the Pirates traveled to the Metrodome and showed the state they were a football powerhouse. Last year, they wanted to do the same but a loss to Hillcrest in the Section 4, Nine-Man, finals at the Fargodome left many Pirate players hungry for another chance.
This year the Pirates avenged that section loss with a 30-26 triumph over Hillcrest in the regular season Sept. 15.
Almost two months later, the teams square off again at the Fargodome and once again it's for the section championship at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
"(Hillcrest) likes to throw the ball," said Pirates coach Mike Mahlen. "They have a good quarterback and he throws the ball well.
"They're pretty quick and they have two or three kids that can catch the ball."
During the regular season Verndale racked up a 7-1 record with its only loss against Chokio-Alberta on Sept. 8. After that loss the Pirates have rattled off seven straight wins for an overall record of 8-1.
The Pirates have outscored their opponents 363-134. Excluding their one loss the lowest scoring output this season was a 21-6 win over Underwood on Oct. 13. Against Underwood in the section semifinals last Thursday, Verndale dominated the game, leading to a 43-6 win and showing the Pirates might be playing their best at the right time.
Much of that has to do with the running of senior Matt Kern and the throwing of junior Chad Christianson.
In nine games Christianson has thrown for 814 yards and eight touchdowns. He's completed 55 percent of his passes (66-for-121). The 6-foot-1 quarterback has also rushed for three touchdowns.
"He runs the offense really well," said Mahlen, who in 31 years has compiled a record of 241-74-3 record. "He had his best game passing against Underwood Thursday. He threw the ball the best he's ever done last week."
Against Underwood, Christenson was 7 of 10 for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Kern has been the workhorse this year. He has carried the ball 162 times for 1,149 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's also caught 11 passes for 131 yards. Kern scored another touchdown on a kick return. His stats through six games give him seven returns for 173 yards.
The two offensive leaders will face up against Hillcrest's 3-3-3 defense which Verndale is familiar with.
"We played them three times last year and once already this year, so we've seen them quite a bit," Mahlen said. "We won't make any changes.
"In the playoff game against Underwood we played very well. We're getting kids back healthy. We had a really good team effort."
The only injury for Verndale is tight end/defensive end Lance Edin who hurt his knee two weeks ago. He is being replaced by Mark Ludovissie at tight end and Steve Schmitz moved from defensive tackle to end.
The Pirates are hoping the past doesn't repeat itself. If they advance to the state tournament they will travel to the winner of the Section 2 championship game between Wetbrook-Walnut Grove and Nicollet.
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