ST. CLOUD - Until two years ago the Brainerd Warriors had qualified for the big school state semifinals once in program history.
On Friday they will make their second trip in three years after stunning Centennial 34-28 in overtime in Friday's quarterfinals at St. Cloud State University.
In 2007, Brainerd shocked Wayzata 13-10, also at SCSU, with a great comeback. In the semis they ran into Cretin-Derham Hall and lost 56-14.
C-DH and Eastview played Saturday night at Griffin Stadium in St. Paul. The winner plays Brainerd at 8:15 p.m. Friday at the Metrodome.
Seniors Kyle Crocker, Reid Mimmack and Aaron Pavek were sophomores when Brainerd made its last trip to the semis.
"It was great the first time but the second time, being a senior, this is our team," Crocker said. "It feels great. Hopefully, we can have a better game than we did two years ago."
"This is incredible," Mimmack said. "We were there our sophomore year but really it was for the seniors and kudos to them because they beat a very good Wayzata team, but it feels great to get there ourselves too."
"This is surreal," Pavek said. "Since my sophomore year I've wanted this so bad, to get to the dome. It's a dream come true. Now we've got to keep it rolling. This is our team. We want it more."
Bending, not breaking
Other than quarterback Chris Anderson, The Warriors contained Centennial's offense.
The 6-4, 215-pound senior accounted for 226 yards in total offense - he rushed for 162. A 1,000-yard passer, Anderson was confined to 64 yards through the air.
"They came out on their first drive and tried to run it, and they did," Pavek said. "They ran it on us, but when the game mattered we dug deep. We just said it's there for us, we've just got to play with our hearts on our chests.
"We left everything on this field tonight, and when it mattered we stopped them."
Pavek sacked Anderson for a 5-yard loss on Centennial's second play in overtime.
"We knew they were going to try to run outside with their quarterback, or try to do a boot pass," Pavek said. "We sent an outside linebacker to blitz, and the quarterback had to try and go back inside. We forced him in and we stopped him.
"Then Crocker jumped that pass at the end and from there we rolled on in on offense."
Firing off the ball
Brainerd's offensive line had its third straight dominant game, paving the way for 238 yards rushing and 131 passing.
Running backs Jordan Hayes and Carsten Nelson rushed for 125 and 104 yards. In the second half, Mimmack completed 7 of 13 passes for 125 yards and a score.
The Warriors enjoyed a size advantage on the Centennial defense and capitalized on the mismatch.
"Our offensive line has been working really hard absolutely all week just for this reason," Mimmack said. "We knew we were going to have a little bit of an advantage there, so we were going to work on it and make sure it was that much better."
Brainerd won despite being stopped twice on fourth down in the final quarter.
On the first possession in the fourth, Hayes was stopped for no gain at the Centennial 5 with 9:01 left.
With 3:19 remaining, Hayes again was stopped on fourth down, this time after a 2-yard gain to the Centennial 25.
"We had a couple other opportunities, those opportunities we didn't cash in on," Stolski said, "so I'm really happy for our kids. We're not going to give in, we're not going to quit."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.