Underwood football

Ready to run:  Underwood quarterback Nik Gardin gains big yardage on the ground against the Cowboys Nov. 1 in the Fargodome. The Rockets will now take on Ada-Borup in the Class A state quarterfinal at Moorhead High School Saturday.

On Saturday, the Underwood football team will set out to compete in its first-ever 11-man state playoff game as they travel to Moorhead High School. The Rockets and the community of Underwood have experience at state tournaments over the last decade as they have challenged for the 9-man Prep Bowl Championship.

The road to the state tournament wasn’t easy, but a strong showing in the Section 6A championship against Breckenridge has many viewing the Rockets as a strong threat in Class A.

“Our guys really came to play and they played without any fear,” Underwood head coach Chuck Ross said of the win. “We held them to a three-and-out on their first possession and then scored and that really gave us a lot of confidence and we played with that the rest of the game.”

The Rockets saw physical play from their offensive line, allowing their backs to take advantage of big running lanes. Quarterback Nik Gardin was also able to create confusion as he carried out several fakes that caught the Breckenridge defense flat-footed.

But while the Rockets seemed to cruise to the section title, a bigger challenge lays in waiting — the Ada-Borup Cougars. The Cougars (9-1) handed the Rockets their lone loss of the season, 36-6.

“We really had a bad three-minute period right before the half where we made some mistakes defensively and they capitalized and blew a close game wide open. Defensively, they played something that we hadn't seen before that gave us some trouble and now there haven't been many defenses that we have not seen,” Ross said.

The Cougars bring in an opportunistic team that thrives on mistakes. Defensively, the team is sound and are big in the trenches. Ada-Borup has kept teams to an average of just under 13 points per game. The average gets a little skewed as their lone loss came to Section 8AA champion Barnesville 35-22 in the first game of the season. Their following eight games, all wins, have the Cougars giving up just under 12 points a game.

Offensively, the team uses multiple weapons to exploit defensive flaws. Quarterback Preston Gwin and running backs Verdis Barber and Braiden Fetting and wide receiver Mason Miller gave the Rockets problems last time around. “They run the ball well behind a big physical line and they can also throw it to some talented receivers,” Ross added.

The Rockets will need to limit their turnovers, having three in the prior meeting, and keep drives alive to combat the stout defense, while also winning most of the battles in the trenches.

Ross and the Rockets will also be looking for the same fan support that they received throughout the season.

“We had tremendous fan support at the Fargodome. They were there in full force and very loud.  We need that again Saturday,” Ross said.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at Moorhead High School.

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