CAVALIER, N.D. -- After undergoing three surgeries on his right knee over a two-year period, Colton Ratchenski was a little wary about returning to football this season.
“I was wondering if I really wanted to play,’’ Ratchenski said. “I didn’t want to get hurt and have to go through surgery again. But it’s my senior year. I decided I wanted one last ride with my football teammates.’’
And what a ride it has been.
Cavalier High School, with an offense led by the knee-surgery recovery duo of Ratchenski and Tanner Urlaub, is 12-0. The Tornadoes play Kidder County at 9:10 a.m. Friday in Fargo for the 9-man state championship.
The two seniors have a combined total of 3,803 rushing and passing yards.
“I don’t think it shows that we have two guys back there with banged up knees,’’ Urlaub said.
Urlaub went down with a season-ending left knee injury in the first half of the first game of the 2018 football season. His total production as a junior was four carries for 33 rushing yards. This season, Urlaub has rushed for a team-leading 1,385 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per carry, and scored 18 touchdowns.
Ratchenski suffered a knee injury in the first football game of his sophomore season. He reinjured the right knee in the summer prior to his junior season, and again last winter when he missed a large part of the basketball season. All three injuries required surgery.
All Ratchenski has done this season is step in at quarterback and pass for 1,507 yards with 24 touchdowns while being intercepted only four times. Ratchenski has completed 70 percent (88-of-125) of his pass attempts. He’s also rushed for 911 yards (9.5 average per carry) and 13 TDs.
“I knew a big key for us would be getting those two back,’’ Cavalier coach Sandy Laxdal said. “They worked hard in the offseason. I thought they would be a real good backfield combination, a dual-threat quarterback and a back who runs hard between the tackles.
“They’ve exceeded my expectations. Colton and Tanner have carried our offense all year.’’
Urlaub and Ratchenski have been effective in part because they bring different dimensions to the offense. Urlaub, even with his impressive yards-per-carry average, is a power back. Ratchenski is more of a speedy, big-play threat.
“Colton’s a guy who is shifty in the open field,’’ Laxdal said. “He’s hard to bring down. He can break tackles and get to the edge, and he has the speed to run away from guys. Tanner is a workhorse. He runs between the tackles and if there isn’t a hole he’ll make yards by himself. He runs hard and attacks defenses.’’
Urlaub recovered from his knee injury fast enough that he returned for the end of the wrestling season and took home a second-place finish at last year’s state meet.
“I was looking forward to football again,’’ Urlaub said. “I’m the same player I was before the injury. I have a punch-it-down-your-throat mentality. I’m not afraid of contact. I like to hit people. Colton’s faster. He can get outside and break off big runs. I’m more of a banger.’’
If the knee surgery survivors aren't enough to keep defenses busy, Cavalier has a tough matchup for defenses in Andre Carrier. The 6-foot-6 senior tight end/wide receiver has 42 catches for 809 yards.
“I never thought it would go like it has,’’ Ratchenski said. “It’s kind of crazy how its turned out.’’
9-man state championship:
Cavalier vs. Kidder County
9:10 a.m. Friday, Fargodome
Coach — Sandy Laxdal.
Record — 12-0.
How they got here — The Tornadoes were the No. 1 seed in Region 2. They’ve advanced in the playoffs with wins of 44-6 over LaMoure-LM, 46-16 over St. John and, in the semifinals, 30-28 in double overtime over Linton-HMB.
Offensive scoring average -- 43.8 ppg.
Defensive points-allowed average -- 10.3 ppg.
Tornadoes’ starting offense -- Sr. QB Colton Ratchenski, sr. RB Tanner Urlaub, jr. WR Brannin Cleem, soph. WR Trevor Hinkle, sr. TE Andre Carrier, sr. TE Isiah LeTexier, jr. LG Andre LeTexier, sr. RG Cole Strauss, jr. C Daniel Hinkle.
Tornadoes’ starting defense -- DE I. LeTexier, DE Strauss, DT D. Hinkle, DT A. LeTexier, OLB fr. Landon Carter, OLB Cleem, MLB Urlaub, CB Carrier, S T. Hinkle.
Rushing leaders — Urlaub 179-1,385, 18 TDs; Ratchenski 95-911, 13 TDs; Cleem 37-248, 5 TDs; fr. Jacob Steele 27-179, 1 TD.
Passing leader — Ratchenski 88-125-4, 1,507 yards, 24 TDs.
Receiving leaders — Carrier 42-809, 15 TDs; Cleem 16-295, 5 TDs; T. Hinkle 15-224; sr. Colby Thorlakson 7-124, 3 TDs.
Coach — Jack Biesterfeld.
Record — 10-1.
How they got here — Kidder County is the No. 2 seed out of Region 4. Its advanced in the playoffs with wins of 36-8 over Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood, 34-28 over Grant County/Flasher and, in the semifinals, 46-6 over Finley-Sharon/Hope-Page.
Offensive scoring average -- 46.5 ppg.
Defensive points-allowed average -- 12.5 ppg.
Starting offensive lineup — Jr. QB Jonah Harter, jr. LWB Payton Cauthon, sr. RWB Parker Hager, sr. FB Isaiah Harter, jr. TE Tristan Patzner, jr. LG Jacob Nolan, jr. C Blake Pfaff, jr. RG Carson Schmaltz, soph. TE Luke Rath.
Starting defensive lineup — DE I. Harter, fr. NG Blake Braun, DE Rath, LB Patzner, LB Pfaff, soph. CB Wyatt Miller, CB Cauthon, SS Hager, FS J. Harter.
Rushing leaders — I. Harter 116-1,032, 13 TDs; Hager 60-957, 14 TDs; Cauthon 52-607, 10 TDs; J. Harter 51-381, 5 TDs.
Passing leader — J. Harter 16-33-0, 315 yards, 8 TDs.
Receiving leaders — Cauthon 9-235, 5 TDs; Hager 4-73, 3 TDs; Patzner 3-54, 2 TDs.