Preparing for gridiron greatnessPublished 9:43am Wednesday, November 27, 2013
It’s time to put on eye black, tape the ankles, light the lights and take the field for the final contest as the Underwood Rockets will look to claim its first ever 9-Man football state title.
The journey to the Metrodome has been full of challenges as the Rockets had to defeat a conference foe, avenge two earlier season losses and knock off two undefeated teams on its way to the 2013 Prep Bowl. The Rockets proved that they should not be taken lightly as they have recorded double digit wins over its last two opponents. But its time to wash away the season’s accomplishments as it all comes down to just one game.
In one corner, the scrappy but confident Underwood Rockets and in the other, the Section 1 champion and last year’s state runner-up Grand Meadow Superlarks. The Superlarks boast a 12-1 record entering the game and have been on a rampage winning seven straight after the team’s only loss in early October. The team, much like Underwood, was not favored in its own section as it held the No. 3 seed.
The Superlarks have been able to produce a high octane offense as junior running back Landon Jacobson has led Grand Meadow with 2,545 all-purpose yards, 1,775 yards rushing and scored 28 touchdowns as the team averages 40 points a game. Jacobson isn’t the only weapon in the team’s arsenal as senior quarterback Trenton Bleifus has been a potent passer and can carry the ball when called upon. This poses a dangerous threat for a Rocket defense that has given up 20 or more points in its last two games.
Defensively, the Superlarks bring strong linebacker play that looks to shutdown the run. In its last win, the Grand Meadow was able to allow only one touchdown as it shutdown the run-first ways of Kittson County Central in a 21-7 victory. The defense has allowed an average of 16 points in its 13 games, but has racketed up its defensive play since allowing 47 points in its loss to Lanesboro.
But the Rockets have proved that even though you know what they are doing, doesn’t mean you will be able to stop them. Every Underwood opponent has been fearful of letting running back Noah Thompson find open space, but due to great play in the trenches Thompson has been able to average 210 yards a game.
An interesting side match up will be the play of both running backs. “Both have explosive break away speed,” Rockets’ head coach Chuck Ross said of the two backs. “Noah is much better at reading blocks, staying patient until he sees the hole, while Jacobson might be a little more of a power runner.”
Grand Meadow head coach Gary Sloan agreed with Ross’ assessment saying that Thompson is patient and waits for a hole, while Jacobson just creates one. “These two have very different running styles but are both very dangerous,” Sloan added.
The practices have become shorter, but the focus and precision of the team has improved. The coach knows that his players are ready to take the field and the jitters of playing at the Metrodome are in the past after controlling their semifinal win.
Ross sees the time off between games as a good thing as his team needed to rest up after a hard fought road to the title game. “We needed the time to get healed up, mend some bumps and bruises.” The coach also knows the other side of the coin, the Rockets were on a blistering pace and many felt they were unstoppable. “The disadvantage is that we were on a big time roll and you hate to see your momentum slowed down because of a break. I guess the same could be said about Grand Meadow and hopefully, it took away some of their momentum.”
A betting man could have not predicted this season for the Underwood football team. Expectations were high for the team, but a rough start and injuries put the team’s success in question for most of the season.
“It really has been a Cinderella story. When you consider the fact that we lost a key player before the season started and then starting the season 1-2 it really tells you how far this team has come in a season. The players have done everything that we have asked of them and then some. They have been a treat to coach and it was really fun to see them progress though out the season,” Ross said.
Ross explained that the whole community is excited as parents and community members have whipped the whole town into a Underwood football frenzy. “This is going to be something that the players, coaches, parents, school and community will never forget.”
The community of Grand Meadow is also excited to have an opportunity to redeem last season’s loss.
“It means an awful lot to our town. Grand Meadow is very much a football town. By tying for the conference this was the 25th conference championship in school history and by getting to the championship game last year, our people are excited about getting a second chance,” Sloan said.
The Rockets and Superlarks will lock horns at 10 a.m. Friday. For live updates via twitter, follow the Fergus Falls Daily Journal sports team @FFDJ_Sports.