Last season, the Dawson-Boyd football team entered the playoffs with few injuries and left a litter of teams in its wake as it marched to the Class A state championship, winning six postseason games by an average margin of 36 points per game.
This season will be different. The Blackjacks are a hurtin' unit and successfully navigating the difficult road back to another title will require major contributions from players who wouldn't otherwise have been asked to carry such a huge load.
"We've had a lot of injuries this year," said D-B quarterback Joey Lee, who leads the Blackjacks against Minneota in Friday's Section 5A championship game. "Last year we didn't have that many injuries so this is a challenge for us."
Dawson-Boyd had to improvise like crazy on Saturday to overcome not only six turnovers but the losses of key offensive players to defeat Canby 23-7 in the Section 5A semifinals.
Back Garth Ochsendorf injured a knee late in the regular season and hasn't returned to the field. Then, early in Saturday's game, leading rusher and top defensive player Justin Lee limped off with a hamstring injury. Not long after, Lee's backup, Dalton Palmer, was upended on a play and suffered an apparent back injury. He was placed on a backboard and left the field via ambulance.
That left the running load to Mike Anyasike, who came into the game also nursing a hamstring injury.
"Garth, Justin and Dalton were out, and Anyasike had a bad leg coming in," Joey Lee said. "We were down to our fourth- and fifth-string running backs. It shows a lot of the character of this team that we were able to keep going and get the win."
"Once we lost Justin, who's our big, key runner, things have to happen," said Blackjacks lineman Brandon Schmitt. "In big games like this, you've got to step up and make things happen."
Losing almost an entire offensive backfield was bad enough. Joey Lee threw two interceptions and Dawson-Boyd lost four fumbles. It's rare that a team will overcome that degree of adversity. But the Blackjacks' defense pitched a shutout - Canby scored its touchdown on an interception return - and limited the Lancers to just 179 total yards, including just 62 rushing yards.
"Our defense shut down (top Canby back Wyatt) Kraus and we forced them to throw more," said Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson. "Our game plan was to take away their strength and make them do something different. To have six turnovers and be able to come out with a win, the defense must have been playing pretty well."
Joey Lee threw two touchdown passes, one to open the scoring and another to ice the game in the fourth quarter, but he lamented the two interceptions and the fumbles that kept the game closer than it might have been otherwise.
"(Canby's) only points, that was on the offense," he said. "Our defense really came through."
"I think that was the best defensive game we've played all year," Schmitt said. "All games are not going to be won by the offense and we have to be ready to play this kind of game."