Imperials happy to be at home
Last Saturday’s 28-14 victory over South Border in Wishek was huge in more ways than one for the Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter football team.
The win sewed up the Imperials’ impressive eighth region championship over the past nine years, and their fifth region title under sixth-year head coach Kelly McCleary. But also, and arguably more importantly, it saved the team from trekking off on a 160-mile bus ride today.
Instead, the Imperials (7-1) have home-field advantage to kick off the 9-man playoffs. They’ll face the Thompson Tommies (5-3) at 2:30 p.m. today in Napoleon.
“It’s definitely nice to have home field and not worry about getting on a bus (this morning) and driving to Finley,” McCleary said. “We get to sleep in a little bit and play in front of a home crowd. It was a big win for our kids.”
A loss to the Mustangs would have sent the Imperials to play No. 4-ranked Finley-Sharon-Hope-Page (7-1), which faces Strasburg-Zeeland (7-2) at 2 p.m. The Spartans’ only loss of the season came against No. 1-ranked and undefeated Cavalier.
Napoleon-G-S had its string of seven consecutive region titles broken last year, as it finished second in the Region 1 standings. The 2012 playoffs didn’t go as planned, either.
The Imperials were defeated 47-44 by Lakota-Adams-Edmore in the first round, after the Raiders hung 33 unanswered points on the scoreboard in the first half on the Imperials’ home field. Napoleon-G-S rallied for 30 points in the fourth, but their season ended at 7-3 overall.
“We can’t afford a slow start (today),” McCleary said, “and we need to use last year as motivation to hopefully get by that first round this year.
“It was definitely a fun streak while it lasted,” added McCleary, of his team’s seven straight region championships. “But our kids were pretty excited to get another one, that and South Border has always been a rival game for us. We had a lot of motivating factors.”
South Border (6-2) finished second in the region standings as a result of the loss to the Imperials, and they’ll host Hatton-Northwood (6-2) today in Wishek at 1:30. The other area 9-man playoff game has LaMoure-Litchville-Marion (6-2) traveling to Cavalier to face the No. 1 Tornadoes at 2:30.
Napoleon-G-S and Hatton-Northwood were the only other area teams mentioned in the final 9-man poll released earlier this week. Both teams were receiving votes.
The key to today’s game between the Imperials and Tommies is pretty cut and dry. Both teams rely on running the football, and the team that finds a way to slow down the others rushing attack will probably be leading when the final buzzer sounds.
McCleary said his team will be focused on Thompson sophomore quarterback Malek Larimer and senior running back Tytus Myron. Larimer is listed at 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds.
“They run a lot of option, and run it pretty well,” McCleary said. “And, they score a lot of points.”
The Tommies are averaging 32.9 points this season, and have put up 61 points twice in victories over Four Winds and New Rockford-Sheyenne. Thompson was, however, shut out by Cavalier, a team that hasn’t allowed a single point all season.
The Imperials are averaging 30.3 points per game.
“We like to run the ball, too, but it’s a different style of running,” McCleary said. “They run mostly out of a dive option with a fullback. It makes it difficult, so everybody has to be doing their job. “
The Imperials have four solid options to carry the ball in senior quarterback Trent Fettig, senior back Trenton Jangula, and junior backs Matthew Gross and Ryan Baumgartner.
According to the coach, Fettig takes around 50 percent of the touches on the ground. The others get the rest, with Gross running between the tackles and Baumgartner getting outside touches.
The winner moves on to face either Finley-Sharon-Hope-Page or Strasburg-Zeeland on Nov. 2. Napoleon-G-S would retain home field if they get past the Tommies.
“We just have to do the little things right. We can’t beat ourselves,” McCleary said. “If we play as well as we can, we’ll have a pretty good chance.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at 701-952-8461 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org