The Verndale Pirates' football team's resume includes:
Unbeaten in regular season for the second time in school history.
Pheasant Conference champions.
Section 4, Nine-man champions.
Nine-Man state football tournament
Friday, Nov. 8
Chokio-Alberta-Herman-Norcross at Nicollet
Cherry at Stephen-Argyle
Tower-Soudan at Climax-Fisher
LeRoy Ostrander at Verndale, 1 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 14
Upper-bracket winners, 8 a.m.
Friday, Nov. 15
Lower-bracket winners, 8 a.m.
Saturday, Nov. 23
Semifinal winners, 8 a.m.
Eleventh state tournament appearance.
The Pirates hope to add to their resume when they host the Section 1 champion LeRoy-Ostrander Cardinals 1 p.m. Friday in the Nine-Man state football quarterfinals.
Verndale advanced to the state tournament with a decisive 42-14 victory over previously unbeaten and top-seeded Isle. Verndale quarterback Cory Umland rushed for 144 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries and was 5 of 6 passing for 80 yards and another score.
Senior running back Kyle Ashman rushed for 95 yards and a score as Verndale amassed 337 yards on the ground and held Isle to 260 total yards.
Jason Kneisl led Verndale with 10 tackles, Tyler Fuller, Ashman and Umland added seven apiece. Umland intercepted a pass and Fuller recovered a fumble in the victory.
"I think the first game against Underwood was our best game but (the section final) was one of the better games we played," said Verndale head coach Mike Mahlen. "Running, passing and defensively we played pretty good. We gave up a couple of bigger plays but we shut Isle's running game down."
The Cardinals advanced to their 11th state tournament appearance with a 49-34 victory over Grand Meadow. At 9-1, the Cardinals were ranked fifth in the final state poll.
"We have a nice running back in Ben Adams," said Cardinals head coach Stan Miller, in his 32nd year of coaching with a 222-91 career record. "He's a senior and our leading rusher. We're a ground-oriented team that likes to throw the ball on occasion."
Adams has rushed for 750 yards and 14 touchdowns on 75 carries. Sophomore Eric Nelson has rushed for 402 yards and junior fullback Kellen Bucknell has added 179.
Sophomore quarterback Neal Bucknell runs the offense. When he passes, his main targets are seniors Dustin Thorson (nine catches, 159 yards) and Chad Orum (5 receptions, 74 yards).
"You try to come up with a scheme that might be workable against each team that you play and we will try to make that attempt against Verndale," Miller said. "But we won't change that much."
The teams have never played each other in the state tournament. Last year, the Cardinals beat Underwood in the quarterfinals before losing to Hillcrest Academy in the semifinals. Verndale beat both of those teams this year with a powerful running game and an opportunistic passing attack.
The running game will need to be ready as L-O has played well against the run. The Cardinals have rushed for 2,205 yards while holding opponents to 473 yards on the ground.
"We have been a nice team against the run," said Miller. "We haven't run into any real big backs until now, though. We'll just see how we match up. We're a little smaller, but we have nice quickness."
Mahlen doesn't expect L-O to pass that much as he believes Adams is the best running back his team will face all year.
"They're a pretty good-sized team," said Mahlen. "They're a lot bigger than Isle was. Adams is 200 pounds and their tight end is 6-foot-6, 200-some pounds. They have good speed, but I don't think they have the quickness of the two backs from Isle."
Verndale will have to keep playing physical defense. L-O runs an offense similar to Chokio-Alberta/Herman-Norcross.
"We have to get into a run-stop mode," said the Verndale coach, in his 34th year and has a 260-78-3 career mark. "With a big receiver they can still throw the ball, but most of the year they've run the ball and haven't had to throw that much. It's similar to us. We could probably throw the ball more, but we haven't had to because we've run the ball so well."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.