They had third-ranked Wheaton beat.
Ninth-ranked Verndale was staring at its first loss of the season.
In both cases, however, the Ashby Arrows couldn't collect the win as they stumbled to an 0-3 start.
Since then the second-seeded Arrows have won seven straight and outscored opponents 242-93.
To make it eight in a row the Arrows must close the deal on Verndale at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D. for the Section 4 Nine-man championship where the winner advances to state.
"This team believes they can beat anyone," said Ashby head coach Joey Andreasen. "Obviously, they understand Verndale is a very good football team. They know to beat them they're going to have to play the perfect game.
Sam Moenkedick (left) ran with the ball as Matt Moenkedick blocked Aug. 31 in Verndale. Brainerd Dispatch/File photo
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"That first game should give us confidence. We were up 8-6 at the half and we were in the red zone two other times in the first half. Then they returned the punt for a touchdown and that took the wind out of us a little bit."
That punt return was by senior Ethan Kern. Along with Sam Moenkedick, the two pose serious problems for Ashby.
"We're going to have to key on stopping Sam," said Andreasen. "The second thing we have to stop is Kern because he's really going to kill you. Either one of those can score anytime they touch the ball. The focus is going to be to stop those two."
The Pirates are enjoying yet another stellar season at 8-1 and will be playing for the school's 13th state appearance.
Aside from Verndale's lone loss to Wheaton Sept. 28, it has held opponents to 8.75 points a game and scored an average of 35.6 points in its eight wins.
The problem for Verndale is health.
"Cole Cottrell hurt his knee and I'm assuming he'll be out," said Verndale head coach Mike Mahlen. "Cody Luchs missed the last game with a knee and I don't look for him to be playing either."
No. 1 Verndale, No. 2 Ashby
At stake: Section 4, Nine-man championship
Where: Fargodome, Fargo, N.D.
When: 3 p.m. Thursday
Last meeting: Verndale won 24-16 Sept. 14
Verndale will focus on stopping running back Luke Hoffman. The senior back has amassed 1,411 yards and 14 touchdowns on 206 carries.
Quarterback Theron Rein has also rushed for 618 yards and five touchdowns on 109 carries and has thrown for 636 yards and four scores on 36-of-77 passing.
"Against us their quarterback didn't do a lot of running, but he's done quite well later in the season," said Mahlen. "We have to stop him and their tailback. Those two guys we have to stop and be able to run the ball ourselves.
"We don't pass the ball very well, but we rushed for 400-some yards against Hillcrest (in a 52-6 semifinal victory Saturday). We had 24 first downs and were able to control the ball. We have to try and do the same thing against Ashby."
Despite Ashby's slow start, this team expected to make the section final. Verndale expected to as well after returning its main offensive threats from a team that played in the section final last year.
The question is can Ashby defeat a ranked opponent or will Verndale return to state after a three-year absence?
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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