The Verndale Pirates have fared the same against speedy running backs, big running backs and teams with passing attacks.
With an 11-0 record, and a spot in the Nine-Man state semifinals 8 a.m. Friday at the Metrodome, Verndale has handled all of its opponents.
Now Verndale faces the Climax-Fisher Knights (11-1), who hope to utilize a big back and a quality passing arsenal to upset the Section 4 champion and second-ranked Pirates.
"We're going to have to mix it up, a little pass and run," Knights head coach Darrin Byklum said. "They're pretty tough up front. We need to keep the ball and sustain some drives because they run the clock out with their offense. Every possession will be important as far as getting points."
C-F hasn't had problems racking up points. It has outscored opponents 650-179. The Knights are averaging 54 points a game. They've scored less than 50 points only twice and defeated Red Lake County Central 82-12 in their third game.
The Knights scored on their first six possessions to defeat Tower-Soudan 55-14 in the state quarterfinals Nov. 8.
"They look like they have three pretty quick running backs, " Mahlen said of the Knights. "Looking at their roster they have good size."
Senior Tony Moulds leads the Knights' running attack with 1,662 yards and 23 touchdowns on 91 carries. Senior Ross Korynta is second with 794 yards and 18 touchdowns and junior Nick Bartels has 584 yards and 10 scores.
"We obviously know we can score points," said Byklum. "As the season goes on every game gets a closer for a reason. Points are a little harder to come by. We're just going to try and keep doing what we have been."
Leader of the Knights' offense is senior quarterback Nick Beiswenger. The four-year starter has thrown for 825 yards and 10 touchdowns on 42 of 61 passing.
His main target is Korynta, who has 24 receptions for 531 yards and six scores. Bartels has 25 receptions for 396 yards and two scores.
C-F's only loss was against Ulen-Hitterdal 26-24 in the second week of the season. Beiswenger and Moulds didn't play in that game. In the Section 6 final, they beat U-H 42-20.
"They're pretty similar to LeRoy-Ostrander," Mahlen said of C-F's offensive attack. "They run a double wing and they have two or three good backs. Defensively, we really gang-tackled against LeRoy. We had two, three or four guys on every tackle. We were really getting to the ball. That was the key to stopping their big back. We have to do the same thing this week."
Verndale knocked off LeRoy-Ostrander 28-13 with a powerful running attack and smothering defense. Kyle Ashman rushed for 198 yards and Casey Finck added 107. The Pirates totaled 318 yards on the ground.
Ashman led the Pirates with 15 tackles, Jason Kneisl had 13 and Isaac Johnson and Finck both had 12.
"We have to win the battle up front," said Byklum "That's the bottom line. Whoever wins the battle up front is going to come away with the win. They don't look as big on tape but I know they're big. I would say they're the biggest team we've faced.
"We're pretty much the underdog. They have size, speed and they're skilled."
One area Verndale will stress this week in practice is special teams. The Pirates gave up an 86-yard kickoff return after their first touchdown.
"We worked on that after we almost got burnt by Isle," said Mahlen. "We addressed that all last week and we made the same mistakes. We have to address that again."
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