Sports are defined by their traditions.
Golf has Augusta. Hockey has playoff beards. College football has the Rose Bowl. And on Friday, the continuing saga that is the Dawson-Boyd and Minneota/Lincoln HI football rivalry will add another chapter when the Blackjacks and Vikings continue what's becoming an annual playoff tradition as the two teams meet for the fourth consecutive year in the Section 5A championship game.
"Eventually there's going to come a year where it's two different teams in the section finals, but four years in a row, I guess you kind of expect that if you make it to a section final that you're going to meet up with Minneota," Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson said.
Independent file photos
LEFT: Minneota/Lincoln HI?senior Isaac Josephson runs through an attempted tackle by a Wabasso defender during the Vikings’ season opener on Aug. 30 in Wabasso. Josephson had 40 catches for 493 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season. RIGHT:?Dawson-Boyd running back Michael Anyasike carries the ball in last week’s Section 3A semifinal game against Canby. Providing a lift for Dawson-Boyd’s banged up backfield, Anyasike had 109 yards on 19 carries in the Blackjacks’ 23-7 victory.
The Vikings hold a 2-1 advantage over the Blackjacks in the 5A final, but in 2011 it was a 22-6 win for Dawson-Boyd that enabled the Blackjacks to earn the school's first state title in its first-ever state tournament appearance.
"Obviously there is a little bit of a difference from last year when we played them because we didn't see them in the regular season, so that was the first time that we did see them," Vikings head coach Chad Johnston said. "We're looking at a second time this year, whether that's good or bad, it's hard to say, but we've become very familiar with each other's programs."
The game, at 5 p.m. at Mattke Field in Marshall, is ripe with familiarity, from records to formations, even down to each team's path to the door step of the state tournament.
Early-season losses served as wake-up calls for two of the state's top teams and powerhouses of the Little Sioux Conference.
Fourth-ranked Minneota/Lincoln HI was hand-cuffed at home by Adrian in a 21-7 loss on Sept. 7.
"To get beat by Adrian definitely was a wake up call for us," Johnston said. "Adrian did some very good things to us, but at the same rate, we did a lot of poor things against them. And I think that kind of woke up the kids, too. Week in, week out you've got to play. There's a reason why you play football games. It doesn't matter what the rankings are or, statistically, who's doing what."
Using that mentalitity, the Vikings have rebounded to rattle off eight straight wins, highlighted by an 18-14 victory over the Blackjacks on Sept. 21 in Dawson. The win snapped a 17-game winning streak for the Blackjacks, but, according to Larson, lit a fire under the Dawson-Boyd team that has trounced opponents in six consecutive wins.
"It was one of those that we think was a good loss. Every season has some key moments in it, and I thought from that loss that we were able to make ourselves better, which certainly, coming out of any loss, is one of your objectives," Larson said. "But that was one of those things where we kind of went through the first three games of the season and kids were kind of satisfied with where they were at and got a little wake-up call when Minneota/Lincoln HI took us out Week 4."
The Vikings' coaching staff has looked to use the win over then top-ranked Dawson-Boyd (now No. 3) as motivation of its own.
"We actually talked about that, right from the beginning" Johnston said. "As soon as we beat Dawson in Dawson, one of the first things we told our kids was 'They're going to remember this. Hopefully we see this group again, and they're going to remember it and they're going to be ready to play us.' I'm sure Dawson's probably going to use that as motivation, remembering that loss, and we're in the same boat. We're trying to use it as motivation to get our kids to understand that this could be a completely different game."
Back on Sept. 21, the Vikings used two long pass plays from Austin Buysse to Nathan Pavek (80 and 41 yards) to establish an 18-14 lead at halftime, before ball control and defense took over.
On paper, Friday's rematch looks to be just as close as the first meeting. Both teams have top 10 defenses and offenses, 1,000-yard rushers, 1,000-yard passers and dynamic receivers. But if the Vikings are going to repeat their previous success, they will need to rely on all three phases, especially special teams.
"Dawson's a very good team and they take away a lot of good things," Johnston said. "I think one of the keys to our success, if we can, is it's got to be the three aspects of the game. We've been fortunate the last few games to have stuff out of our special teams, we're getting big plays out of our special teams, and this time of the year that is very important. That's going to be really a key for us, to get something out of our special teams and maybe a little bit more out of the run game."
On the other hand, if Dawson-Boyd is going to repay the Vikings for its only blemish in 24 games, then its third-ranked defense is going to need to reclaim the form it showed in holding opponents to a touchdown per game during the first seven games of the season.
"You can't break down in your responsibilities, and one of those touchdowns that we gave up was just a breakdown in coverage," Larson said. "Another one was just a poor job of tackling. We've certainly got to cover better, we've got to make sure we control the line of scrimmage. We need to be much more physical up front than we were Week 4. And hopefully we've gotten to that point. We'll see if we are on Friday."