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Conference foes NLS, Albany to meet again

ST. CLOUD -- It's never easy beating a good team, let alone twice in the same season. The losing team generally makes adjustments to improve on an upcoming rematch, while the winning team feels confident that the same game plan should enable them...

ST. CLOUD -- It's never easy beating a good team, let alone twice in the same season. The losing team generally makes adjustments to improve on an upcoming rematch, while the winning team feels confident that the same game plan should enable them to prevail again.

That's not necessarily the case with New London-Spicer coach Dan Essler as he plays a chess match with Albany skipper Mike Kleinschmidt for the Section 6AAA championship today at St. Cloud State University's Husky Stadium.

"We need to play solid control football," said Kleinschmidt. "We also need to combat their tremendous speed and athleticism and play solid on special teams."

New London-Spicer won the first meeting between the West Central North Conference rivals, 14-2 and went on to win the conference title with a 7-0 record. The Wildcats are currently 10-0, while Albany comes in at 9-1.

"I would say the biggest improvement since Albany has been the overall play of our offensive line," said Essler. "Our defense has been really good all year. We will have to play great defense to stop Albany."

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In the first meeting, the Wildcats forced six turnovers (two interceptions, four fumbles).

"It wasn't any one or two big plays," said Kleinschmidt. "Just overall we needed to be better fundamentally."

NLS running back Jake Essler ran for 82 yards in 22 carries in the first meeting. He leads the team with 1,004 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns this season. Essler is one of six players who have scored a rushing touchdown this season. In all, 10 players have reached the end zone for the Wildcats, making it hard for a defense to concentrate on one or two players. Signal-caller Jayme Moten's passing efficiency rating has risen each of the past four weeks and he has thrown for 908 yards and has completed 52 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Moten's top targets are Aaron Jenny (21 receptions for 364 yards, 4 TDs), Brandon Zylstra (12-210-4) and Erik Tengwall (10-167-4).

Defensively, the Wildcats have held opponents to one touchdown or less in all but two of their games. Tengwall leads the team with six interceptions. Justin Zylstra is tied for the area lead with 11Β½ sacks, while John Nething and Tom Duscher have six apiece. The Wildcats have forced 33 turnovers (24 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries), while turning the ball over 19 times.

Bryan Schlangen is Albany's top rusher with 972 yards. Quarterback Adam Harlander has passed for 709 yards and run for 479 yards. Zach Noreen leads the team with 12 receptions for 349 yards. On defense, B.J. Bueckers has 51 tackles and Schlangen has 37.

The Wildcats don't feel any added pressure being the defending section champions, who went on to reach the Class AAA state semifinals.

"Our players have been through a lot of big games in all sports and I think that is helpful to being relaxed and play to your capabilities," Essler said. "Pressure is being 0 and 7 and hoping you can win the last game of the season. We've been there before and that is more stressful than anything that happens in coaching."

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