Less is better — that’s a lesson learned by Warren-Alvarado-Oslo the last time the Ponies played Win-E-Mac.
Win-E-Mac beat the Ponies 28-6 on Oct. 4. It was the third straight loss for Warren-A-O, and the third straight game it had allowed 28 or more points while scoring less than 10.
The Ponies have won five straight since that loss going into the rematch. The teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Moorhead High School in the quarterfinal round of the Minnesota 9-man high school football playoffs.
“It was a situation where you lose three in a row and you wonder who you are as a team,’’ W-A-O coach Tony Gullikson said of the midseason losing streak. “We had to get back to keeping it simple. We were maybe trying to do too much.
“We cut our playbook in half after that game. We simplified things. For us, it’s not doing things differently; it’s doing a lot less stuff. We’re running more off tackle, more quick pitches. Our offensive production has gone down as far as points. But we’re controlling the ball, moving the chains and controlling time of possession.’’
It will be stingy defense against stingy defense Friday.
Win-E-Mac (11-0) is allowing only 6.9 points a game, the lowest per-game average in Minnesota 9-man. The Patriots haven’t allowed more than 18 points in a game.
Warren-A-O (8-3) has been more generous with a 16.9 points-against average, a number inflated when it allowed 100 points in the three straight losses. During the current five-game winning streak, however, W-A-O has a 6.4 points-against average and has held all five opponents to 12 or less points.
That Ponies defense is anchored by linebackers Brandon Miller (134 tackles, 14 tackles for loss) and Gunnar Jorgensen (88 tackles, 9 tackles for loss) and defensive ends Kirby Kilen (5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks) and Garrett Mehrkens (85 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 9 sacks).
“Defense is our strength,’’ Gullikson said. “We’ve been winning the turnover battle. We’ve been very aggressive on defense. Our guys have been flying to the ball. You get a lot of guys to the ball and good things happen.’’
The Win-E-Mac defense has a playmaker at middle linebacker in Bryer Strom (78 tackles) and a defensive line anchored by ends Gavin Walker (59 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Zach Simonson (24 tackles). The team has 13 interceptions, returning five for touchdowns.
“Warren mixes things up more on defense,’’ Win-E-Mac coach Aaron Cook said. “We’re predominantly a four-man front. It suits us well.
“We trust our ends to handle things on the edge. They turn things inside. That allows Bryer to make plays. He’s our leader. He has good instincts. He does a great job.’’
The teams have a different look on offense. Warren-A-O is heavily reliant on the running skills of Miller (1,289 rushing yards). Win-E-Mac has a more diverse offense led by running back Nathan Fortmann (1,199 yards rushing) and dual threat Walker (846 yards rushing, 62-of-109 passing for 856 yards) at quarterback.
“They run right at you,’’ Cook said. “We mix things up more. We have more of a read-option running game. We’ll look to pass more.
“I think it will be a fairly low-scoring game. Their defense is tough. And I think our defense is fairly solid.’’
Win-E-Mac at a glance
Coach -- Aaron Cook.
Record -- 11-0, Section 6 champion.
Season scoring average — 32.4 ppg.
Season points-allowed average — 6.9 ppg.
Patriots’ starting offense -- Jr. QB Gavin Walker, sr. RB Nathan Fortmann, jr. RB Bryer Strom, jr. WR Alex Jacobson, jr. WR Kobe Hamre, jr. TE Reed Neubert, sr. OL Zach Simonson, sr. OL Connor Johnson, jr. OL Gavin Haskett.
Patriots’ starting defense -- DL Haskett, DL Johnson, DL Simonson, DL Walker, LB Strom, LB Fortmann, jr. LB Remy Goodwin, DB Hamre, DB Jacobson.
Rushing leaders -- Fortmann 198-1,199, 15 TDs; Walker 100-846, 12 TDs; jr. Tom Martushev 44-263, 3 TDs; Strom 44-229.
Passing leader -- Walker 62-109-8, 856 yards, 11 TDs.
Receiving leaders -- Hamre 25-313, 2 TDs; Strom 7-216, 4 TDs; Fortmann 11-126, 2 TDs; Jacobson 12-99, 1 TD.
Defensive leaders — Tackles: Strom 67 solo-11 assisted; Walker 50-9; sacks: Haskett 4.5, Fortmann 4; interceptions: Walker 4; Hamre 3; fumble recoveries: Simonson 3; Walker 3.
Warren-A-O at a glance
Coach -- Tony Gullikson.
Record -- 8-3, Section 8 champion.
Season scoring average — 20.2 ppg.
Season points-allowed average — 16.9 ppg.
Ponies’ starting offense -- Soph. QB Gavin Gullikson, sr. HB Brandon Miller, soph. FB Conner Mercil, jr. WB Sergio Vela, soph. TE Hunter Steer, soph. TE Kobe Otero, jr. G Nevin Ness, jr. G Kyle Kleinvachter, sr. C Gunnar Jorgensen.
Ponies’ starting defense -- Jr. DE Kirby Kilen, jr. DE Garrett Mehrkens, DT Ness, sr. DT Matthew Weiland, soph. DT Noah Rodriguez, LB Jorgensen, LB Miller, jr. LB Blaise Potucek, sr. S Connor Narlock.
Rushing leaders -- Miller 191-1,289, 15 TDs; Mercil 65-263; Potucek 620-230
Passing leaders -- Miller 11-28-5, 218 yards, 1 TD; Gullikson 5-22-2, 44 yards.
Receiving leaders -- Narlock 4-132, 1 TD; Potucek 2-67; Steer 6-36.
Defensive leaders -- Tackles: Miller 86 solo-48 assisted; Jorgensen 56-32; Mehrkens 57-28; sacks: Mehrkens 9, Kilen 3; interceptions: Miller 4; Narlock 3; fumble recoveries: Miller 3; Jorgensen, Mehrkens, Mercil and Dawson Moehrle, 2 each.