It's been one year and six days since the Pierz Pioneers last played in a section final.
The Crosby-Ironton Rangers have had a longer wait.
Not since the dynamic team of 1994 have the Rangers played in a section final. The drought of 14 years will come to an end 5:30 p.m. Friday when the top-seeded Rangers face the perennial powerhouse Pioneers for the Section 6-2A championship at the Fargodome.
Pierz, seeded No 2, will play in its seventh straight section final and will attempt to end the one-year absence from the state tournament. Pierz is 4-2 in its last six section finals and a win would give the program its eighth state appearance.
Crosby-Ironton's Reed Olander returned an interception against Wadena-Deer Creek in the Section 6-2A quarterfinals Oct. 27. The Rangers play Pierz for the section championship Friday at the Fargodome. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"I don't know if it's an advantage, but it's a lot less stressful," Pierz head coach Leo Pohlkamp said about playing in seven-straight finals. "The planning of the food and everything else, we know how to do. We're upgrading to Greyhounds because of the longer trip. We know to wear tennis shoes and not spikes. We usually forget something, but we manage."
The Pioneers have managed pretty well this season. Aside from a loss to Class 2A's second-ranked Eden Valley-Watkins, Pierz has been spotless. The defense has posted five shutouts, including Saturday's 37-0 rout of Osakis in the section semifinal.
The Pioneers (9-1) are averaging 37.9 points a game, while holding opponents to 8.7.
"We're faster than last year," said Pohlkamp. "Last year we couldn't run with Breckenridge (in the section final). They had more speed than we had and it showed. We went to work on that this summer and we're hoping that's improved.
"C-I has a lot of weapons. It's not just one weapon. They have a quarterback who can throw and more than one guy who can catch the ball."
The Rangers finished the regular season 8-0 for the first time since 1973. Wins against Wadena-Deer Creek and Holdingford have them playing at the Fargodome for the first time.
No. 1 Crosby-Ironton (10-0) vs. No. 2 Pierz (9-1)
What: Section 6-2A final
When: 5:30 p.m., Friday
Where: Fargodome, Fargo, N.D.
At stake: Class 2A state football tournament
"We've been practicing inside to get used to that 70-degree temperature and warm air," said Ranger head coach Mike Gindorff. "We're just going to tell the kids to have fun, keep encouraging them and building them up. We will keep with the same mantra we've had all year and that's to finish the week 1-0."
Matthew Hudrlik leads the Rangers with 900 yards and six touchdowns. Nathan Hudrlik is close behind with 856 yards and 12 scores while quarterback Phil Kuhlmann has tallied 178 yards and seven TDs. Kuhlmann has thrown for 1,368 yards and 18 touchdowns on 69 of 138 passing. His main targets are Mark Hoge (23 catches for 599 yards and six TDs), Matthew Hudrlik (27, 382, 4), Mitch Gutzman (13, 162, 3), Alex Bundy (7, 135, 3) and Justin Edmundson (4, 104, 2).
What worries Gindorff is Pierz's offensive line. While the Rangers faced bigger teams all season, Gindorff said they have yet to face a line as talented as the Pioneers.
"They're the best line we will have played against," he said. "You have to be worried about their power running, but at the same time they can bust a big play on you. Plus, you have to stop two or three different guys.
"They pass well enough to keep you honest. You can't stake the line. We're going to stay with what we do and do it the best we can do it."
John Omann leads the Pierz rushing attack with 1,290 yards on 124 carries for a 10.4 yards-per-carry average. He's scored 15 times. The key will be fullback Cody Stangl. The three-year player has rushed for 718 yards and 17 touchdowns on 129 carries (5.6). Mitch Woitalla has 377 yards and five scores and Jake Nelson is healthy again.
Pierz has thrown for 523 yards, led by Zack Pohlkamp's 324 yards and three touchdowns.
"We won't change what we've been doing," said Leo Pohlkamp. "We throw when we want to. We're not as balanced as C-I, but we won't change from what we've been doing.
"We're happy to see C-I playing good football. We know they've been playing good basketball forever. They'll probably have more people over there than us and the place will be filled with that "Go, C-I, Go."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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