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Prep football playoffs: Are they tough enough?

The question southwest Minnesota football fans want to know is a simple one — one that will be answered on Friday, but one that playoff fanatics can’t wait for.

It’s this: Are the 2013 Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley Wolverines comparable to the 2012 outfit that won the Minnesota 9-Man championship?

Brian Dahl, co-head coach of the Wolverines, chuckled under his breath Wednesday morning when a newspaper reporter asked him the question. His response:

“Our backfield is pretty much the same. Our line is completely different except for one returning starter. That being said, they’ve all stepped up. They’re all seniors on the line except for the sophomore on the right end.”

On Friday at high noon at Southwest State University in Marshall, Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley will play another undefeated opponent, Mountain Lake Area, for the 2013 Section 3 9-Man title. Also at Southwest State Friday, Adrian contends with Tracy-Milroy-Balaton at 5 p.m. for the Section 3 Class A championship. And at 7:30 p.m., Jackson County Central takes on Maple River for the Section 3 Class AA crown.

The C-G-B match with MLA features two teams that have taken on the role of behemoth throughout the fall season. So it only seems fitting that both programs carry the “Wolverines” nickname.

The closest game the C-G-B Wolverines have participated in occurred on Sept. 20 in a 34-14 drubbing of Wheaton/Herman-Norcross. They defeated a good Hills-Beaver Creek team in the section semifinals, 62-16.

Until Mountain Lake Area won a 20-12 rematch with Edgerton/Ellsworth in the section semis, the more southern version of the Wolverines’ closest game was with that same E/E team back on Oct. 11, in a 48-18 result. The quick-strike MLA outfit opened the season with wins of 73-22, 91-7, 54-0, 77-0, 67-6 and 79-6.

Dahl said on Wednesday that he considers his team the underdog.

“We see the scores and we know they’re high-powered. A very athletic team,” he speaks of his counterparts. “When they spread the field, they can do a lot of dangerous things.”

In their 40-22 victory last year in the state 9-Man title game, Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley’s Austin Maanum rushed 20 times for 185 yards and two touchdowns, and teammate Jason Montonye added two touchdowns on 13 carries for 126 yards. Both are back.

Maanum was held out of the Hills-Beaver Creek victory due to an ankle sprain, but Dahl declares him fit for the Mountain Lake Area contest. In eight games this year, he has amassed 1,496 rushing yards. Montonye has gained more than 1,200.

C-G-B has attempted only 31 passes this year over 10 games. With a running game like that, passing is clearly a secondary option.

The defending champs employ a 4-3 defense that, according to Dahl, has come into its own over the last couple of contests. Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley is not graced with speed around the edges, but it holds well against the run.

“It’s more of a disciplined, stay-at-home defense than one that’s coming at you,” said Dahl.

Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley’s run-oriented, stay-at-home program will be pitted on Friday against a Mountain Lake Area team led by 6-7, 230-pound quarterback Carter Kirk, a supremely gifted athlete who can pass or run his team to triumph. MLA’s semifinal game against Edgerton/Ellsworth was the first game this season that the Wolverines didn’t dominate. In fact, Edgerton/Ellsworth led 6-0 at halftime.

Perhaps the Mountain Lake Area coaching staff can look at their come-from-behind effort against the Flying Dutchmen as a reason to avoid overconfidence in the section finals. But given the nature of their opponents, overconfidence might seem impossible, anyway —for both teams.

Rematch in Class A

Friday’s 5 p.m. game matching Adrian with Tracy-Milroy-Balaton features another rematch. On Sept. 6 — the second game of the season for both teams —Adrian defeated T-M-B 27-13.

Adrian is the No. 1 seed in Section 3A, armed with a 7-2 record. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton is ranked No. 3 with a 7-3 mark. In the semifinals, the Panthers defeated second-seeded United South Central 20-14 while the Dragons downed No. 4 St. Clair 18-2.

The two Little Sioux Conference squads have played several of the same opponents. Adrian beat Canby 39-14; T-M-B beat Canby 32-0. Adrian shut out Lakeview 32-0; T-M-B beat Lakeview 42-6. Adrian topped MACCRAY 28-20; T-M-B beat MACCRAY 30-12. Adrian topped Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 37-0; T-M-B beat R-T-R 26-0; Adrian lost to Dawson-Boyd 34-20; T-M-B lost to Dawson-Boyd 21-19; Adrian lost to Minneota/Lincoln HI 35-0; T-M-B lost to Minneota/Lincoln HI 41-14.

JCC making another push

Jackson County Central supplanted Marshall for the Southwest Conference championship this season and has won eight straight. The Huskies, in fact, seem to be getting stronger with each passing week. They shut out St. James 56-0 in their first sectional contest and followed that up with a 51-12 victory over Martin County West.

The Huskies are stepping up to the plate after going far in the state tournament last year, finally losing in the semifinals to Moose Lake/Willow River by a 27-20 score.

Both JCC (top-seeded) and Maple River (No. 2) head into Friday’s showdown with 9-1 records. The Eagles, who finished a perfect season in the Gopher Valley Conference, defeated Southwest Conference teams Windom Area 49-0 and Luverne 21-0 in the first two rounds of the section playoffs.

JCC limited Martin County West to 39 yards rushing on 25 attempts last Saturday. Meanwhile, the Huskies rushed 54 times for 330 yards.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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