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Knights look for similar results in state opener

West Central Area senior Brady Sabolik carries the ball against Pillager in the section championship game on Nov. 3. Sabolik and the Knights play in Brainerd at 7 p.m. on Friday in the opening round of the Class AA state tournament. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)

The West Central Area-Ashby football team went to the air to beat Pillager in the Section 6, Class AA championship on Nov. 3. Now the Knights are ready to see if that can work again in their first state tournament game since 1999.

"That's the game plan," Knights head coach Jon Moore said. "We want to be able to throw the ball. We know we can run the ball, so that's going to be in our back pocket. I think if we spread them out and we can get some big chunks of yards they're going to have to respect that and we'll be able to run, too."

The Knights racked up 410 yards through the air last Friday and now face a 6-5 Moose Lake-Willow River team out of Section 7 that Moore says runs a lot of the same schemes as the Pillager team they just faced.

"It's basically a clone of Pillager," he said. "They run the double wing like all these northern teams like to do and a 4-4 cover three is a pretty standard defense."

Moore said that from practice after school on Nov. 7 with temperatures sitting in the mid-20s. Inside at the Fargodome was the perfect setting to throw the ball around during the section championship game. Those conditions will be a lot tougher in Brainerd on Friday with a 7 p.m. kickoff, where the forecast is for cloudy skies and a high of 23 degrees.

Coaches for the Knights wanted to get their team used to those conditions. They ran through their game plan on Tuesday evening and were going to be back on the field at 6:45 a.m. the next day to experience even colder temperatures.

"We'll put the kids in some uncomfortable situations and see how they respond," Moore said.

The Knights, who were seeded second in the Section 6 field, will face a Moose Lake-Willow River team that was seeded third in their field. Both the Knights (7-4) and Rebels beat the top seeds in their section to advance to state.

The Knights played with the mindset that they had nothing to lose against Pillager. They will handle things with a similar approach Friday.

"We just got to play like it's your last game," senior quarterback Ross Anderson said. "We're in the state tournament for the first time since 1999. Just go out and play. Play hard, play fast, block, hit hard and see what happens."

This is a Knights team that surprised a lot of people by getting here this season after going 2-7 a year ago. Slowly but surely, they have started to make believers out of fans and themselves.

"Obviously, we hope to win and we are kind of expecting to win now as well," Moore said. "I hope the kids have that expectation that we're going to go up there and play hard, and we should walk away with a win. Moose Lake-Willow River has had a lot of success with a coaching staff that has been there a long time. They've been in this situation and we haven't. We just hope the kids can come out and play like they did the other day."


What: West Central Area-Ashby vs. Moose Lake-Willow River

WHEN: Friday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Brainerd High School

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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