One attribute of Ron Stolski-coached Brainerd Warrior teams has been the ability to improve week to week and be in top form when the postseason arrives.
This season may have marked a departure from that tradition. This Warrior team has played at a high level since the first snap in the opener Sept. 3 at Rocori and has maintained that edge all season.
Brainerd has averaged 32 points and 369 yards a game in an unbeaten season. It won the Central Lakes Conference championship and secured the top seed in Section 8-5A. Its defense has forced 20 turnovers and allowed just 14 points and 257 yards a game.
Warriors vs. Moorhead
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Clemens Stadium, St. John's University, Collegeville
What: Section 8-5A championship game
The series: Moorhead leads 12-10. The Warriors won 28-7 in the regular season.
The Warriors will play for their fourth section title in this decade Saturday afternoon when they travel to St. John's University to play the third-seeded Moorhead Spuds.
"We've been fortunate in one sense that we haven't had any injuries that have taken starting players out for any length of time," Stolski said. "You always have to have your health. We've been able to develop some depth. We're getting contributions from more players now than we were in the preseason and at midseason.
"We have held our numbers more consistently than we have ever done. The kids we started with are the kids we still have. Sometimes that's not true for one reason or another. Our morale, health, effort is all good, and that leads to a successful season.
"You develop positions where you weren't certain what you had. Our quarterback (Mitch McLain), for instance, has developed wonderfully, along with the center position with Logan Peterson, our tight end play with Adam Paulson and Sam Lastovich, and the defense, the fact we're able to use so many players in so many roles. Our special teams game has been very good.
"All that combined creates a scenario where we've got a pretty good football team, and our record is indicative of it."
Brainerd (9-0) will face a Moorhead team that's 6-4 after mauling Duluth East 52-0 in the opening round and upending No. 2-seeded Cambridge 9-3 in last week's semifinals.
"We scored our touchdown in the first half, then we had an errant snap on the extra point so we were up 6-0," Spuds coach Kevin Feeney said. "In the third quarter, I think on their first drive, they went down and kicked a field goal. We ended up kicking a field goal with less than two minutes to go.
"We've struggled to finish drives. We got inside their 20 twice and came away with nothing. That's been our Achilles heel all season long."
The Warriors beat Moorhead 28-7 in the regular season despite running 19 fewer offensive plays than the Spuds. Moorhead controlled the ball much of the second half, but couldn't score until the final quarter.
"No. 1, if we expect to have any chance this game we have to make sure we get off the bus better than we did the last time," Feeney said. "Brainerd came out and smacked us, they ran it right down our throats. Whether we weren't mentally prepared or what ... Brainerd is a team that's tough to prepare for and to emulate in practice. They definitely sent a shock through us early in the first quarter."
Brainerd running backs Jordan Hayes and Matt Pohlkamp scored in the first 6.5 minutes of that game. The Warriors finished with a 328-256 edge in total yards.
Stolski looks forward to playing in the program's second straight section final.
"We play well in the afternoon," he said. "It's a good facility, a great venue, and I hope we get a good following given its (the opening of) deer season."
Feeney, former head coach at Fargo South, has never been to St. John's, but looks forward to the trip.
"I hear it's unbelievable," he said. "The kind of approach I'm taking is No. 1, the biggest thing for us is we get another week of practice in our program, which is in its infant stages. No. 2, any time you get to a game that has the word 'championship' in it that makes it a successful year."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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