South Border ready for first quarterfinal gameThe South Border Mustangs will be entering uncharted territory this afternoon. Following season after season of finishing closer to the cellar of the Region 1 nine-man football standings than near the top, the Mustangs have advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time since the inception of the gridiron co-op between Ashley and Wishek in 1992.
By: Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun
The South Border Mustangs will be entering uncharted territory this afternoon.
Following season after season of finishing closer to the cellar of the Region 1 nine-man football standings than near the top, the Mustangs have advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time since the inception of the gridiron co-op between Ashley and Wishek in 1992.
At 1:30 p.m. in Ashley, the Mustangs (8-2) will be squaring off against the Hankinson Pirates (7-2) of Region 2. South Border is the only team left standing in the annually potent Region 1, after Kidder County fell to Wyndmere-Lidgerwood 38-12 and Hankinson upset the five-time defending Region 1 champion Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter 39-20 last Saturday.
The Mustangs finished second to Napoleon-G-S in the region standings this year, after falling to the Imperials 20-16 in the final regular game of the season, and it’s really not an enormous shocker that the Mustangs have found themselves where they are.
The team made a decent playoff run last fall, making it into the second round before being ousted by Wyndmere-Lidgerwood, and returned seven-of-nine offensive starters and six starters to the defense. South Border finished last season with a record of 5-6.
“Last season was kind of our springboard into this season,” South Border co-coach Jason Klusmann said. “Last year we were predicted to finish last in our region, and we were happy to just be in the playoffs.
“We knew what we had coming back and we set high expectations this year. The kids have stepped up to the challenge.”
The two most notable players who have come back and have produced outstanding senior seasons is the running back duo of Ross Martell and Tallon Lippert. Martell has racked up 1,548 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 226 carries this season, while Lippert has rung up 939 yards and 14 scores on 88 carries.
The running back tandem has combined for 2,656 of South Border’s 3,460 total offensive yards in 2009.
“Our running game is what we hang our hat on,” Klusmann said. “Those would be the two guys I’d assume (Hankinson) will focus on. We haven’t had to pass a whole lot this season, but Justin Deede has been a good receiver from the tight end spot for us, and they’ll probably also look to take him away in the passing game.
“It’s the playoffs. Everyone has to step up,” Klusmann added. “Good players become better and role players need to step up to be successful.”
Deede, a junior, leads the Mustangs with 11 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns. The signal caller for South Border is freshman Michael Jacobson, who has completed 13 of 36 pass attempts for 254 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Mustangs have shown off excellent balance on both sides of the football this season, posting an average of 35.4 points per game and allowing an average of just 15.9 points to opponents during their eight wins and two losses.
Along with the slim four-point loss to the Imperials, South Border was again humbled by Wyndmere-Lidgerwood 56-6 in the fourth week of the season. Klusmann said the lopsided defeat was an eye-opener for his team.
“We had one major hiccup against Wyndmere-Lidgerwood. It woke us up,” Klusmann said. “We were 3-0 at the time and it showed us we still had a lot of work to do. Any loss isn’t good, but that one refocused us. Since then our kids have improved a lot on the defensive side of the football.”
A solid defensive effort by the Mustangs will certainly be needed this afternoon against the Pirates. To go along with their impressive win over Napoleon-G-S this postseason, Hankinson — the No. 3 team out of Region 2 — took down a tough New Rockford-Sheyenne football team 28-26 in the first round.
During last week’s win against the Imperials, Hankinson exploded for 33 points in the fourth quarter behind three touchdown runs by senior quarterback Alex Althoff. But the Mustangs will have to also be on the lookout for senior running back Garrett Stein and senior tight end Danny Hangaard who both also found the end zone against Napoleon-G-S.
“They look like they have decent size up front, a very athletic quarterback and a solid tail back. They also have a big receiver at tight end,” Klusmann said. “They run more of a power game and if we can shut down the run and make them have to throw the ball we’ll be in good shape. We definitely have to contain their quarterback. He’s super athletic and he’s a playmaker for them.”
But so far the Mustangs have been rising to the occasion. South Border took down Central Valley 44-19 in the opening round of the playoffs, and then found a way past Lakota-Adams-Edmore 18-12 in Lakota to be one of the final eight teams left playing.
“We tell the kids four tough yards is a good play. Ball control is key and it played a big role last week in Lakota. We ran a lot of plays,” Klusmann said. “Teams have really been loading the box on us, but if we can run the ball successfully we should be in good shape.
“We knew we had the talent and ability to get this far and the kids are playing with a lot of confidence right now. We’ll be ready to go.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org