DEER RIVER — Being the defending Section 7A champions, the Deer River High School football team had a target on its back all season.
Teams tried to put together their best games against the Warriors to no avail. The only loss suffered by Deer River during the regular season was a non-section loss to International Falls early in the season. Other than that hiccup, the Warriors ran the table to include its big 36-0 victory over Braham last Friday in the section championship game.
Now, with the Warriors back into the state tournament for the second year in a row, Deer River is hoping to make a statement this year. The Warriors will open the tournament on Saturday, Nov. 9, at noon in Brainerd against BOLD, which is based in Olivia, Minn. BOLD will enter the game at 11-0 while the Warriors are 11-1.
“It’s good; it never gets boring and you can never get enough of it,” said Deer River head coach Brent Schimek about the section championship. “You just want a shot at that state tournament. You never know what the draw is necessarily going to be; last year we drew Mahnomen and they ended up winning the thing. You don’t get a shot unless you get there so that’s huge.”
Schimek said his team played very well in its section championship win over Braham.
“They were very aggressive; they were focused and ready to go and it didn’t take a lot of effort on (the coaches’) part to get them there,” Schimek said. “We had a good week of practice and this is something they worked for to get to and they got there. They knew they only had one shot at it.”
Schimek said the impressive ground game led by Trevor Michienzi with 207 yards and three touchdowns and Austin Rasley with 70 yards and two scores was big in the win.
“Running the football was the plan and we sort of took what they gave us,” Schimek said. “Most of the time it was about four plays out of eight different formations; it just looked different. It was pound and pound and it so happened that Trevor Michienzi was the beneficiary of that because of the side we were mainly running to. He did an excellent job.
“The main thing is we didn’t have any turnovers and Braham only had two but turnovers are big things for field position. We held onto the ball and that was huge.”
Schimek said the Warrior defense in the month of October was stout and a big reason for that is the fact that the squad has been able to remain relatively healthy.
“We get a few dingers here and there like everybody else but we have been able to remain healthy which really helps,” the coach explained.
Being the defending section champion, Deer River had a target on its back for the entire season. Schimek said it is always harder to remain a section champion than it is to get to be the champion for the first time.
“Once you get there, it’s not like you are sneaking up on anybody,” Schimek said. “They have had that on them all year and I think they are very good at taking it one game at a time and getting to that step. They weren’t nervous and they didn’t seem up tight; they were just ready to play and they wanted to get after it.
“When you hold a team like Braham to 19 yards rushing, that’s a pretty good job.”
BOLD was in the championship game last year where it lost to Mahnomen. Schimek said the coaching staff is watching film of BOLD and he said it’s obvious the BOLD quarterback, senior Jordan Sagedahl, is dangerous.
“BOLD is a very solid team,” the coach explained. “They are a kind of traditional state team the last 20 years as they have been to state several times. They are a lot like us in a lot of different ways. Offensively, the are a double tight power-running team and they have a very good quarterback and they have some speed.
“Defensively they are very stout. It is just going to come down to execution.”
With both teams playing well defensively, Schimek said that when teams get into the playoffs, defense wins games.
“High school football is turnovers and field position,” Schimek said. “Defense sets up both of those. It gets the other team on a short field a lot and turnovers are such a momentum swing. When you get to good teams, they have good field position and they don’t turn the ball over. So far this year I think we are in the plus 20’s in turnovers so we have been able to do that.”
Schimek said he expects the state tournament experience many of his players received last season will benefit the Warriors on Saturday.
“It’s huge because last year was all new for everybody,” the coach said. “This year two-thirds of the team has been there before, been on that field and been in that locker room and you just can’t replace that. Plus, it is going to be a lot nicer than last year; last year was a high of four degrees that day and the wind was blowing so you can’t get much worse than that.
“This year it is not going to be that way and it is going to be a lot nicer out.”
Schimek said his team is happy to be getting another shot at state and he said the Warriors will be ready to play.
“The kids really want to get to U.S. Bank, they really want to go one step farther than last year,” Schimek said. “They want to keep building on that. They know it’s not going to be a pushover by any means because those last eight teams are very good.
“So, it is going to be a lot of hard work but I think they are up for it.”