MINNEAPOLIS -- A good offense also can be a good defense.
The Verndale Pirates football team has the luxury of both and it showed in a 30-24 victory over the Climax/Fisher Knights in the Nine-Man state semifinal game Friday at the Metrodome.
Verndale held the Knights to 114 yards rushing. Entering the game, the Knights had racked up an average of 324 yards per game on the ground. Knights senior running back Tony Moulds came into Friday's game with 1,662 yards and 23 touchdowns on 91 carries, an average of 18.3 per carry.
"We didn't do anything special," said Verndale head coach Mike Mahlen. "We knew we had to key on Moulds and we had to gang-tackle. We did that pretty well last week against (Ben) Adams from LeRoy-Ostrander. We knew that a lot of times that first guy doesn't bring him down. This week I think we did the same thing."
Moulds was held to 4.6 yards per carry on 19 attempts. He finished with 87 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Ross Korynta was averaging 12.8 yards per carry. Verndale held him to 27 yards on six carries and no touchdowns.
"We knew they were a well-rounded team that could pass and run so we stepped it up on (Moulds) and covered the pass," said Pirates linebacker Tyler Fisher. "Their back was averaging 18 yards a carry and we held him."
Fisher, who leads the Pirates in tackles, added six Friday and a quarterback sack. The sophomore has 96 tackles and five sacks this season.
Eric Bramer led Verndale with nine tackles and two sacks. The senior now has 70 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks.
"We were blitzing a little bit, but our front four guys were getting really good pressure," said Mahlen. "We're pretty quick up there with (Eric) Bramer, (Jason) Kneisl, (Wyatt) Carr and (Josh) Richter."
In all, Verndale sacked Knights quarterback Nick Beiswenger seven times for minus-28 yards.
"That was huge. We knew he was a good quarterback and that he could scramble around," said Pirates defensive end Wyatt Carr. "We had to get after him all day. We blitzed the linebacker a lot and just got after him."
Beiswenger, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior quarterback, did throw for 207 yards and three touchdowns on 18 of 27 passing.
The 24 points scored by C-F was the most given up by Verndale in a game all season.
For the Knights, 24 points tied a season low. This year they averaged 54 points. The previous low was in a 26-24 loss to Ulen-Hitterdahl.
"We're a good run-defense team, we have big guys and big hitters and that's all it comes down to," said Fisher.
This year, Verndale has allowed just 116 points while its offense has racked up 414. One of the keys on offense is the running attack. Before Friday's game, Verndale rushed for 3,323 yards. The quality running allows Verndale to eat up clock and keep the opponents' offense off the field.
But when the Pirates' defense was on the field it allowed just 1,155 yards rushing and 1,071 yards passing. That's just more than 200 yards a game. C-F did manage 321 yards, but held the ball for 25:24 and ran 69 plays while Verndale ran 49 plays and held the ball for 22:36.
Verndale's running attack was held to 286 yards. That's one of the lowest rushing totals produced by Verndale. But when it mattered, that vaunted running attack pulled through.
With 5:18 remaining in the fourth quarter, Verndale started its final scoring drive at its 34. Eight runs and 66 yards later, and 3:46 taken off the clock, senior Casey Finck rumbled 31 yards for a 30-18 lead.
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