Early-season 9-man showdownNearly everyone who has their ear to the ground concerning North Dakota High School football this fall has the road to the state 9-man championship running squarely through Region 1. The region is absolutely loaded with size, speed and impact players this season, due to the major alignment overhaul that affected every region in the state during the offseason.
By: Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun
Nearly everyone who has their ear to the ground concerning North Dakota High School football this fall has the road to the state 9-man championship running squarely through Region 1.
The region is absolutely loaded with size, speed and impact players this season, due to the major alignment overhaul that affected every region in the state during the offseason.
Class B 9-man football went from six total regions in 2010, to just four regions this fall, with all the regions bumping up from seven teams — except Region 6 — to 10 total teams in 2011. Region 6 was comprised of eight teams last year.
The juggling of the regions, and the addition of teams to each of them, has produced quite a guessing game as to just who will be the teams to beat in each region.
But if the game of finding the state’s best 9-man football team was a round of “Where’s Waldo,” mark it down, Waldo is more than likley lurking in Region 1.
The original teams left playing in Region 1 this season include six-time defending Region 1 champ Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter, Edgeley-Kulm, Ellendale, South Border and Strasburg-Zeeland. New to the region are Hankinson, Richland, Sargent Central, Wyndmere-Lidgerwood and LaMoure-Litchville-Marion.
Wyndmere-Lidgerwood has emerged as a state powerhouse in recent years, winning four Region 2 titles since 2003, and winning the team’s first state title since 1992 last season. The Warriors took down Wells County 54-12 in the state title game last season.
Then there’s Napoleon-G-S, a team that has gone 25-4 over the past four seasons under head coach Kelly McCleary. McCleary has helped lead the Imperials to an almost ridiculous six consecutive Region 1 championships and is bringing back a second-team all-state quarterback and six all-region athletes.
The Imperials could definitely be Waldo material.
But then there’s LaMoure-L-M, who could very well already have Waldo screen-printed on the back of their jerseys.
The Loboes are making their first foray into 9-man football since 1988, and made the first-round of last year’s state 11-man playoffs out of Class A’s Region 1.
Size normally prevails in 9-man football, and the Loboes are enormous. The Loboes’ 2011 offensive line is as big as they come, going 265 (Zach Stemen, senior), 255 (Cole Hesby, senior), 235 (Trevor Alber, senior), 210 (Jordan Fugl, junior), 280 (Ryan Haugen, junior), and 220 (Nolan Alber, junior) across the line.
“If I had to choose big or fast, I’d probably choose both,” said Joel Bickford, who is in his third year coaching the Loboes. “But our offensive side of the ball helps, and they’re not super huge that they can’t move. Our kids can move up front and get it done.”
Those are frightening words for any 9-man opponent to hear, and they’ll definitely come into play this Saturday, when the Loboes will arguably host one of the most hyped Week 2 games in recent memory against Napoleon-G-S in LaMoure.
The Loboes are coming off a dominating 68-14 win at Strasburg-Zeeland last Tuesday night in the school’s first nine-man football game since the Reagan administration.
“It’s just a different game. There’s a lot more distance to cover and it took time for us to figure things out,” Bickford said. “We were much better in the second quarter on, and we should continue to get better and better.”
A pair of first-half defensive scores by the Loboes is pretty much what broke the Clippers’ back. Stemen first picked off a pass from the d-line and went in for the score, and then junior linebacker Riley Jordahl hauled in an errant pass and went 70 yards for the score.
“They’re a good team and played really hard, but I thought that was too much of a mountain for them to climb back into the game,” Bickford said.
The decision for the Loboes to head back to 9-man football was all about the numbers, according to Bickford. LaMoure Public School’s enrollment has been falling over the past few years and currently has 124 students in grades 7-12.
“Our numbers are small. We have a seventh-grade class that has 13 kids,” Bickford, who’s also the high school principal, said. “Looking to the future by the numbers, we just felt (9-man) was the best way to go. We matched up with people in 11-man, but depth was just such a concern going down the road.”
The Loboes might be the big, bad former 11-man team in the region, but don’t think for a minute that Bickford and his team would even consider looking past McCleary and the Imperials this Saturday night.
“They are the class of the region. We just want to measure up,” Bickford said. “We’re going to try to run the football and make them stop us. That’s our game plan.
“They have so many animals they’re going to have salt blocks in the end zone.”
The Imperials also got the 2011 season off on the right foot with a 30-8 victory over Sargent Central on Tuesday. But when it comes to the Loboes, coach McCleary is sort of scratching his head at the moment.
“It’s only (LaMoure-L-M’s) second game of 9-man, so we really don’t know a whole lot about them except for that one film,” McCleary said. “I know they’re a huge team, offensive line-wise. They’ve definitely got the size advantage, and we consider ourselves a big team.”
The passing game clicked for the Imperials against Sargent Central, as all-state senior quarterback Jonah Schwartzenberger tossed for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Junior receiver Steven Weigel hauled in seven passes for 118 yards and a score.
“They will challenge us with the run and the pass,” Bickford said. “They’ve got a nice quarterback, a good tight end and some nice receivers. They can mix it up.
“If we can contain their quarterback and keep him in the pocket I think we’ll be OK. If he gets out and runs we could be in trouble.”
McCleary said he’s not too sure how it will all play out, and this early in the season it was also tough for the coach to make any solid region predictions.
“I think we’d like to say we’re right there in the mix with the better teams. But there’s no clear-cut favorite this year, that’s for sure,” McCleary said. “It’s going to be a dogfight for nine games this year, and as far as our region goes, this is a big game.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at email@example.com