In order to be the champion you have to beat the champion and that's what stands in front of the Pequot Lakes Patriots.
The top-seeded and eighth-ranked Patriots (9-1) will get a chance to relive their biggest victory of the season when they face second-seeded and ninth-ranked Perham at 8 p.m. Friday in the Section 8-3A final.
Cody Chambers of Pequot Lakes tackled Kaleb Torgerson of Thief River Falls in the Section 8-3A semifinals. Chambers leads the Patriots with 54 tackles. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Perham (9-1) is the two-time defending section champion and will play in its fourth-straight section final.
Pequot is playing in its first section final since 2001. That year Patriots head coach Chip Lohmiller was the offensive coordinator and none of the players on this year's squad were even in junior high.
That doesn't worry Lohmiller.
No. 1 Pequot Lakes (9-1) vs. No. 2 Perham (9-1)
What: Section 8-3A final
When: 8 p.m., Friday
Where: Alerus Center, Grand Forks, N.D.
At stake: Class 3A state football tournament
"These kids have been in big games through basketball and the other sports they are in," said Lohmiller. "When we played Perham earlier this fall that was a huge game for these guys. They know what big games are all about."
In that game, Pequot outscored Perham 35-32 to hand the Yellowjackets their first and only loss of the season.
"We have to change our defense because we couldn't stop their passing attack," said Lohmiller. "We have to disguise the coverages and get some pressure on the quarterback and keep him contained. (Ben Bucholtz) can scramble. In the Staples-Motley game, just like against us, whenever he scrambles he makes plays."
Pequot Lakes quarterback Cole Engen passed against Thief River Falls in the Section 8-3A semifinals. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Bucholtz has thrown for 2,071 yards and 20 touchdowns this year. He's 122-of-197 and has only thrown two interceptions.
His stable of targets include Charlie Schmitz (33 catches, 488 yards, 3 touchdowns), Ben Waldon (29, 485, 8), Cody Soderstrom (16, 412, 3), Tim Herrmann (14, 222, 2) and Alex Phelps (11, 207, 3).
Perham has outgained its opponents 383.0 to 206.0 and has outscored them 371-139.
"We won't do anything different," said Perham head coach Howard Kangas. "What we will try to do is outscore Pequot 88-82.
"I really don't put a whole lot of stock in how we have been playing. What matters is are you making plays. We're two pretty evenly matched teams."
It's hard to tell what Pequot has since no team can stop their running game. That's given Lohmiller no reason to throw the ball. Pequot has rushed for 2,709 yards and thrown for 369. Senior tailback Matt Michaelson leads the way with 1,445 yards, but fullback Cody Chambers (360 yards, three touchdowns), Nic Greer (252, 5) or quarterback Cole Engen (170, 4) are all capable.
"We're going to keep putting in the same number of plays we do every week," said Lohmiller. "We may not run any of them. But you may see some different formations and sets to give Perham a different look and we'll see how they adjust to that."
Lohmiller isn't worried about scoring on Friday. It's all about stopping Perham's passing game.
Pequot has outscored opponents 35.3 to 10.4. The Patriots' defense owns three shutouts and held four other opponents to one score each. The only team to score more than 15 points against the Patriots was Perham.
"We're on a roll," said Lohmiller. "The defense has played awesome this year If we can stop their passing game we'll do well. We made a lot of adjustments. We didn't game plan very well defensively against them last time. We met Sunday night and went over a whole bunch of different looks. We're hoping to get some pressure on the quarterback, but contained pressure."
Chambers leads the team with 54 tackles to go with a forced fumble and two sacks. Chris Tappe has 43 tackles and two sacks, while Engen leads the team with three sacks. Michaelson has three interceptions.
"We know Pequot is a talented team," said Kangas. "It was an extremely close, hard-fought game in Pequot. The only thing we can take from that game is that this game Friday will be a close, hard-fought game as well. That's the way football should be played."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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