The Pillager Huskies had only themselves to blame for not being able to relax during Thanksgiving break last year.
They're hoping to do it again in two weeks.
For the third year in a row, the Huskies' football team advanced to the Class 1A state football tournament with a 16-14 victory over top-seeded Parkers Prairie Nov. 1 in the Section 6 final at the Fargodome.
Last year, Pillager lost to McLeod West in the state championship game, a day after Thanksgiving. This year's road to the Metrodome could be similar.
Class 1A state football tournament
Friday, Nov. 8
Mountain Lake-Butterfield-Odin at McLeod West
Osakis at Red Lake Falls
Cook County at Pillager, 6 p.m.
Rushford-Peterson at Holy Trinity Winsted
Thursday, Nov. 14
Upper-bracket winners, 10:30 a.m.
Friday, Nov. 15
Lower-bracket winners, 10:30 a.m.
Saturday, Nov. 23
Semifinal winners, 11 a.m.
Last year, Pillager beat Cook County in the quarterfinals 50-22 and Osakis 34-26 in the semifinals before losing to McLeod West. All three of those teams are back in the state tournament.
Pillager (7-3) will look to make it two straight against the Section 7 champion Cook Country Vikings 6 p.m. Friday in Pillager.
The Vikings, 11-0 and ranked No. 1 in the final 1A poll, beat Silver Bay 28-13 in the section final to advance to their 10th state appearance and eighth straight.
"They have a quarterback, Colly Norman, that's pretty explosive," said Pillager coach Dan Boushee. "They have a kick returner who's pretty good in Devan Futterer. Teams are kicking away from him.
"I haven't watched the Cook County film yet, but I know they have some kids who can play. They're ranked No. 1 in the state for a reason. They're going to be tough."
Norman rushed for more than 1,000 yards and threw for more than 700. His completion percentage was more than 50 percent with most of his passes going to split end Cory Hudler (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), tight end Jason Donek (6-1, 210) and Futterer (6-3, 180).
"Colly threw very few interceptions," said Vikings coach Dale Bockovich. "He doesn't make a lot of mistakes."
Bockovich said the Vikings run a balanced offensive attack with the option as their base play. Tailback Zach Haugen and fullback Curtis Blake, along with Norman, handle the rushing.
Against Parkers Prairie, senior running back Tony Mason rushed for 186 yards on 43 carries. Behind an experienced offensive line, Mason set up Pillager's game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter as he carried the ball on 15 of 19 plays to seal the victory.
"In looking at the tapes they're a very disciplined team," Bockovich said. "They run it right at you. They don't beat themselves.
"They're very precise, meaning they run things accurately. I don't think they're a big-play offense as far as setting up fancy plays.
"The object is going to keep the ball away from them, take charge and make sure they can't eat up the clock and keep working for first downs and control the games. We want to make it wide open and make things happen."
Last year, Pillager racked up 458 yards rushing, 532 total yards, to eliminate Cook County.
This year, Pillager will need more time-consuming, efficient drives, like its last series in the section final to keep the Vikings' offense off the field.
The Huskies will also need to limit turnovers and penalties to make it easy for themselves.
One advantage for Pillager is playing at home instead of driving to Grand Marais like last year.
"I think it's always an advantage to play at home, just the fans we'll have at the game," said Boushee. "Last year we had a great following, but playing at home I expect even more."
Cook County is hoping it can make the six-hour trip and do what Pillager did last year.
"I felt we got waxed by Pillager pretty good last year," said Bockovich. "We knew they were going to have a decent team back this year, but we were pretty surprised they made it back.
"We're glad they made it because not only did they beat us in the quarterfinals of the state football tournament but they beat us by two points in the state basketball tournament. I'm also the basketball coach and I have four of the five starters returning from that team. These guys know what it's about to play Pillager."
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