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Luverne faces Triton in Class AA championship

LUVERNE -- Continuously improving their play every week, the Luverne Cardinals have earned their way to the Class AA state football championship game tonight at the Metrodome.

Luverne (10-3) plays second-ranked and undefeated Triton (12-0) at approximately 6:30 p.m., in the fifth of six state title games featured in Prep Bowl XXV.

Advancing with their sixth consecutive victory (33-27) last week in the semifinals against Moose Lake/Willow River, the Cardinals will likely have to play their best overall game of the season to defeat Triton and come home with a state championship trophy.

"These kids know what it takes to be successful," Cardinals head coach Todd Oye said. "We know this game is going to be a big challenge, but these kids have risen to the occasion all year long."

Leading all Minnesota teams -- regardless of class -- in scoring average (49.8 points per game), Triton has scored at least 40 points in its last eight games (10 overall).

The Cobras also feature a stout defense, giving up just 7.8 points per game -- tops in Class AA and fifth in the entire state.

"Triton is a very impressive team," Oye said. "They beat two state tournament teams (Rochester Lourdes 50-13, and Winona Cotter 32-14) in the regular season."

Junior tailback Caleb Rissman and senior fullback Jake Harmon are two of Triton's weapons out of the backfield.

Senior quarterback Zach Erdmann directs the potent offense, which consists of a lot of option and counter plays out of wing formation.

"They do a lot of things offensively, and we're going to have to defend them all over the field," Oye said. "The key is going to be eliminating their big plays, and making them earn their yards and their points."

Meanwhile, Luverne has plenty of confidence and momentum of its own, as well as a number of threats on both sides of the ball.

Throughout their current six-game winning streak, the Cardinals have come through in the clutch on several occasions, especially in each of their two state tournament games.

Derek Elbers (pictured right) led the Cardinals against ML/WR, as he rushed for 200 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries. He now has 18 touchdowns on the season.

"Derek has emerged as our go-to guy, and he's been able to have that kind of success because of the solid play of our offensive linemen," Oye said. "It all starts up front, and those guys are playing outstanding."

While the running game has been steady for the Cardinals, so too has the aerial attack, with Jeremy Hoff delivering precision passes to a crew of wideouts led by Jake Clark.

Finding ways to win games has been a hallmark for the Cardinals during their impressive playoff run. Luverne has been playing with a lot of emotion, and the number 33 has served as a motivating factor for the team.

Luverne has scored 33 points in each of its last two games, and 33 was the uniform number of former Cardinal Chris Ashby.

"It's been a little ironic to score 33 points the last two games," Oye said. "We didn't realize it until after the Winona Cotter game, but we knew we had 33 during last week's game."

The Cardinals will definitely be playing for Ashby tonight, as they look to cap a special season with a victory.