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Blackjacks open state tourney today vs. Braham

Getting after quarterbacks is a goal for every defense.

Containing Braham’s John Larson will have to be an overriding priority if Dawson-Boyd doesn’t want its quest for a second Class A state championship in three years to come to a screeching halt in the quarterfinals.

But while Braham’s defense might be more concerned with being gashed by Dawson-Boyd’s max-return running game, a quarterback with a somewhat different style could prove to be the Bombers undoing, too.

The Blackjacks, 10-1, and the 11-0 Bombers play at 5 p.m. today at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium.

Braham is averaging almost 31 points and 354 offensive yards per game, and Larson is responsible for creating a large share of those numbers.

Larson is the Bombers’ leading rusher with 659 yards and 9 touchdowns and he’s completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,286 yards, 29 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions.

Zach Dahlman has hauled in 59 of Larson’s passes for 974 yards and 13 scores, and Noah Bone has 29 receptions for 480 yards and 5 TDs.

Larson also handles the Bombers’ punting and is the team’s No. 2 kick and punt return man. When Larson isn’t running, he’s usually getting the ball to Elijah Overton, who has 603 rushing yards and averages about 6 yards per carry.

Defensively, the Bombers don’t give up much on the ground or through the air.

Braham has held opposing runners to an average of just 3.76 yards per carry, and enemy teams have averaged a meager 82 passing yards per game. The Bombers have limited opposing passers to a 40 percent completion rate and they’ve intercepted 21 passes.

Alex Sutton is the Bombers leading tackler with 58.5 total stops and Dahlman is close behind with 55.5 total tackles.

But the Blackjacks bring in an even more prolific offense and a defensive attack that has been equal to what the Bombers mount each week.

D-B senior quarterback Joey Lee is playing in his third state tournament and he’s 35-3 as a starter. He doesn’t pose the running threat Larson does but he’s just as efficient as a passer in far fewer attempts.

Lee has completed 61 percent of his throws for 1,774 yards, with 18 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. Michael Lee is his chief target, with 38 catches for 706 yards and 8 TDs, but Joey Lee is adept at getting several pass catchers involved in the action if his first option is covered.

Joey Lee doesn’t need to concern himself with running because the Blackjacks have been getting incredible mileage out of the backfield tandem of Dalton Palmer and Mike Anyasike.

The Blackjacks, who average 40 points per game, don’t really feature a back, but Anyasike was close to it for much of the season. He enters the Braham game with 1,134 yards and 14 touchdowns on 118 carries. That’s 9.6 yards per carry.

Anyasike suffered a hamstring injury late in the regular season and the bulk of D-B’s carries went to Palmer, a junior who returned this season after breaking his back in a 2012 section playoff game.

The Blackjacks haven’t missed a beat with Palmer as their lead back. He’s rushed for 1,281 yards and 18 touchdowns on 143 attempts. That’s just shy of 9 yards per carry.

Dawson-Boyd allows about 13 points per game compared to the Bombers’ 11 per game. Jamie Arvold leads the Blackjacks’ defense with 76 total tackles and 5 fumble recoveries. Palmer is second 73 stops and Noah Stelter is third with 72.

Neither the Blackjacks nor the Bombers hurt themselves with turnovers or penalties – they are almost mirror images with 14 turnovers and 13 give-aways, respectively — and their penalty numbers are pretty much even.

The Bombers finished the regular season ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press’ final poll. Dawson-Boyd was ranked No. 5.

On paper, the teams are that close. The edge would have to go to Dawson-Boyd based on its rushing attack, which piled up 1,100 more yards than the Bombers on essentially the same number of carries. As a team, D-B averages 7.8 yards per carry compared to Braham’s 4.7.

But if the Bombers can somehow blunt the Blackjacks’ running attack, Larson and Lee could find themselves center stage, two polished quarterbacks trying to win this thing with their wings.

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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