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Prep Football: Blackjacks, Mahnomen face off in title game for 2nd time in three years

Dawson-Boyd junior wide receiver Michael Lee (10) slips behind the Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s defense to haul in a 36-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter during a Class A semifinal game Nov. 16 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Tribune photo by Tom Larson

MINNEAPOLIS — The Dawson-Boyd football team will be playing its fourth big game in the Metrodome in the last three years, but familiarity doesn’t mean the Blackjacks don’t need a little reminder about staying focused.

“I think everyone understands it’s just a football game,” said Blackjacks head coach Cory Larson, who leads his team into the Class A state championship against Mahnomen for the second time in three years at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“You can look at it and say you played in the Prep Bowl after the game,” Larson said. “Don’t think about it during the game. Go play the game and after that you can reflect back on what an awesome experience it was.”

The Blackjacks (12-1) and Mahnomen (13-0) met in the 2011 Class A championship game, with undefeated Dawson-Boyd taking home the trophy with a 35-20 victory.

Dawson-Boyd lost to Bethlehem Academy in last year’s state semifinals and the Cardinals lost to Mahnomen in the championship game.

Mahnomen reached this year’s Prep Bowl final with a 19-0 win over Bethlehem Academy in the Nov. 16 semifinals while Dawson-Boyd earned its spot in the title game with a 27-18 win over Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s.

Mahnomen averages almost 340 of its 395 total yards per game running out of its veer offense. The Indians were on par with that two weeks ago in the semifinals, rushing for 255 yards while throwing just three times and completing one for 29 yards.

Efficiency, not deception, is what makes the Indians tough to beat, said Blackjacks wide receiver and safety Michael Lee.

“We have a good game plan,” Lee said. “I think we know what they’re going to do. They run their offense really well. We just have to stop it.”

Larson said the Indians haven’t changed much since their 2011 meeting.

“The only difference now is that they run a lot more formations,” Larson said. “They run inside and outside veer with a little play action in there to keep you honest.”

The Blackjacks trot out a much more balanced attack. They’ve run for almost 3,200 yards but quarterback Joey Lee has completed about 57 percent of his passes for 2,013 yards and 22 touchdowns.

D-B faces some questions about how much Lee might have to throw against Mahnomen. Dalton Palmer, a 1,500-yard rusher, injured his ankle in the second half against SESM and worked with the offense for the first time Friday when the Blackjacks practiced at Minnetonka High School’s bubble-dome field.

Back Mike Anyasike, who has run for more than 1,200 yards, has been playing with a bad hamstring and turf toe the last five games. The two-week break between the semifinals and championship game has been a benefit, Larson said.

“(Palmer) will give it a go,” Larson said. “He’s not 100 percent but he’ll get out there and see how it goes. If he’s effective we’ll keep him going.”

Junior Karson Lindblad and sophomore Christian Thoen have been getting plenty of reps as Palmer and Anyasike rested their ailing legs. Whatever momentum the Blackjacks lost with the week off is offset by the extra healing time.

“With the injuries, the rest is nice,” Larson said. “But you’d like to turn around and play a week later. It gets to the point where you feel like you’ve over-prepared. You have to be careful not to outthink yourself as a coach.”

The Blackjacks players, too, are getting ready in as simple a manner as possible.

“It seemed like a long time (with the week off),” Michael Lee said. “But we’ll be in the same routine as the other times we’ve come down here. We’ll take it as another game.”

Tom Larson

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

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