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Luverne looks for first title in second straight trip to Prep Bowl

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WORTHINGTON -- Even though the Luverne Cardinals are returning for the Prep Bowl for the second consecutive year, head coach Todd Oye insists the team isn't feeling any pressure.

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"Last year, we kind of surprised people to get as far as we did, and this year, we had two close games with Triton and Pierz to get there," Oye said. "I don't think we feel pressure. We're just happy to be playing."

After losing to Triton a year ago in the Prep Bowl, Luverne (12-1) needed a last-second field goal to defeat Triton, 10-7, and an interception in overtime to come out on top of Pierz, 29-22 to advance this year.

The next task for the Cardinals is Caledonia at 4 p.m. today in the Metrodome.

"They are a very skilled team. They have an excellent quarterback that distributes the ball well," Oye said. "They have very good team speed. Defensively, they aren't real big, but very aggressive and physical."

Caledonia (12-1) defeated Hawley, 35-20, last week to advance to today's game.

"We watched them play Hawley the day before us, and it was a high scoring game," Oye said. "Hawley broke two long runs to start the game, but in the second half, Caledonia really dominated play."

Quarterback Kody Moore completed 12 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns against Hawley, and has thrown for more than 2,000 yards this season.

However, Moor was sacked three times.

"We have to stick to what we've done all year," Oye said. "We have to stop their passing attack, and we need to mix up our coverages a little bit and see if we can get some pressure on the quarterback."

Cody Petersen enters the game as the leading rusher for the Warriors with more than 1,100 yards, but Zach Gran rushed for 102 a week ago, and enters with 18 touchdowns.

"They do a good job of mixing it up. They have a back that I believe has about 1,200 yards who's a real physical back," Oye said. "Then, they have a big-play back that they will put in the backfield that has as many yards, but has more touchdowns. They are a very balanced team."

When Moore isn't handing the ball to either Gran or Petersen, his favorite target is Andy Bauer.

Bauer caught six balls for 165 yards and both touchdowns last week and is approaching the 1,000-yard mark this season.

With a potent passing attack, Luverne will be without a starting defensive back.

"Zach Clark broke his collarbone, and he's (fast) guy, so we're losing some speed," Oye said. "But it's a team game, so we'll play good team defense."

Phil Paquette played in Clark's place last week and will once again fill the void.

"Zach Clark missed the first four games of the season this year, so it's something we've experienced," Oye said. "We've got a guy playing defense that's played defense all year."

However, the best defense for Luverne may be not giving up the ball.

"The best thing for us to do is offensively, control the time of possession, so they don't have the ball as much," Oye said.

To control the clock, the Cardinals will have to establish their ground game.

Caledonia surrendered 228 yards on the ground last week to Hawley, including 195 to one back.

Luverne will use the combination of Paquette (more than 1,100 yards), Mitch Bauman (nearly 500) and Jeremy Hoff (550) to control the ball.

"There's no secret that we like to run the ball," Oye said. "We are a power-running team, and we think that we're balanced enough that we mix it up between Phi, Mitch Bauman and our quarterback enough that they can't key in on one guy."

Hoff has also thrown for more than 800 yards this season.

"If there are too many guys getting up on the line of scrimmage, we have receivers," Oye said. "If we have to, we'll throw it."

Weston Sawtelle caught two passes for 58 yards a week ago and leads the team with 20 receptions.

"I think that a key match up is our offense against their defense," Oye said. "We need to control the line of scrimmage and hopefully, control their passing game."

But even with a solid game plan and momentum, Oye knows it won't be easy if the Cardinals want to capture their first state championship.

"We're feeling good right now," Oye said. "We've been playing fairly well, but we understand at this point in the season that Caledonia is an excellent team, otherwise they wouldn't be playing in the Prep Bowl."

With the entire state watching and facing a tough opponent in the biggest game all year, the Cardinals' goal is simple.

"Our goal is to play the best game that we've played all year," Oye said.

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