DAWSON - Heading into the quarterfinals of the MSHSL Class A State Football Tournament, Dawson-Boyd is in the unique situation of having played their opponent a year ago.
But the Blackjacks (10-1) are not thinking for a second that this is going to be an easy game.
"We had an open week last year and we played them in Week 6," said Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson. "It wasn't a real close game, but they are a different team."
File photo by Lauren Beukelman
Dawson-Boyd’s Joey Lee attempts to pass against Wabasso last Friday at The Schwan Regional Event Center.
The Blackjacks, who finished fifth in the final Associated Press poll, know that a lot has changed from the 5-5 Bombers they faced last season. The squad they'll face on Friday night at St. Cloud State University's Husky Stadium is 11-0, finishing fourth in the final poll.
"We mentioned it to our players once and said, 'last year is last year, this is this year,'" Larson said. "We pointed out to them that last year Barnum beat them pretty handily and this year Braham turned around and beat them twice."
Knowing they are facing a much-improved team, the Blackjacks are focused on controlling the things they can offensively.
"The film that we have on them is against Barnum, and they are predominately a run team," Larson said. "It's pretty easy to make adjustments, offensively, but it still comes down to controlling the line of scrimmage and executing in the run game and the passing game."
At this point in the season, injuries can play a factor, and the Blackjacks are working to negate any down players.
"Both our running backs are not at 100 percent, but they'll play with what they have and try to make the most of it," said Larson. "Other than that, we're pretty healthy."
Michael Anyasike has run for 1,080 yards and 14 touchdowns on 105 carries and Dalton Palmer has gained 797 yards and scored 12 TDs on 95 carries. During the playoffs, Palmer leads the Blackjacks with 484 yards and six rushing touchdowns, while Anyasike has gained 54 yards and has not crossed the goal line.
Meanwhile, quarterback Joey Lee has been able to pick up the run game by completing 68 of 108 passes for 1,316 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Defensively, Dawson-Boyd will be tasked with containing sophomore quarterback John Larson, who is in his second year at the helm.
"Their quarterback is a year older, which will help them. He's bigger and stronger, making more plays for them," Larson said. "He keeps a lot of plays alive. He'll dang near be to the sideline and he'll head towards the other sideline to keep plays alive. He has a strong arm and he's a very good scrambling quarterback.
"We need to make sure our secondary doesn't focus so much on the quarterback and lose the receivers because he appears to have very good field vision and an extremely strong arm."
The Blackjacks top five tacklers include Palmer (54), Jamie Arvold (49), Noah Stelter (45), Anyasike (39) and Hunter Olson (36). Despite only having 15 tackles, Keith Abraham has made the most of them with five sacks. Arvold and Jake Lehmann have four sacks apiece, Dalton Kostad (three), Karson Lindblad (three) and Cody Aafedt (one) round out the list. Olson, Michael Lee and Kyler Collins all have one interception apiece.
For the third straight year Dawson-Boyd has received a favorable travel draw, heading to St. Cloud after two years playing at Morris in the quarterfinals.
"We've been pretty fortunate the last two years that we've just had to go to Morris. This year, we're at St. Cloud State," said Larson. "That's pretty light travel. We kinda lucked out there."
But even with the shorter travel time, the Blackjacks still have to prepare to play.
"You take it like any other game. You need a solid week of preparation," Larson said. "The No. 1 goal this week is to come out with a victory on Friday. It's not looking ahead or reflecting on anything in the past, it's all about Braham this week and trying to go out and play to the best of our abilities.
"We don't want to worry about the scoreboard and hopefully things take care of themselves."