Area games to watch: Defense again sparks Ponies

Size isn't a disadvantage for the defensive unit of the Warren-Alvarado-Oslo football team. Rather, it's an incentive. "We're used to being smaller than the other team," Ponies senior linebacker Keaton Laymon said. "A lot of guys enjoy the challenge.

Size isn't a disadvantage for the defensive unit of the Warren-Alvarado-Oslo football team. Rather, it's an incentive.

"We're used to being smaller than the other team," Ponies senior linebacker Keaton Laymon said. "A lot of guys enjoy the challenge. Going against bigger guys, it feels good to beat them and make a play."

The Ponies are off to a 2-0 start led by a defense that has yet to allow a point. Warren-A-O faces a test Friday when it hosts Mahnomen in a matchup of two of the top high school teams in Minnesota's Section 8A.

Stingy defense isn't new to the Ponies. Last season, they allowed an average of 10.6 points a game. In 2008, they were even stingier, giving up 8.2 points a game.

"Defense is a mentality," W-A-O coach Tony Gullikson said. "Our kids love defense. They'd rather make a big hit and knock somebody down than score a touchdown. Sometime I'll tell Rick (Schmiedeberg, the W-A-O defensive coordinator) that his defense has to score two touchdowns for us to win."


This season's defensive unit has had a lot to do with the Ponies' tradition of success.

Laymon is in his fourth season as a regular. Linebacker Zach Riopelle and defensive back Christian Erickson are third-year regulars, while linebacker Colton Laymon and linemen Dalton Rolland, Michael Weiland and Rafael Gonzalez all are second-year starters. The 270-pound Gonzalez is the only defensive lineman topping 180 pounds and the only defensive regular topping 205.

Rounding out the starting unit are end Andrew Lansing, linebacker Sam Gibson and defensive backs Derek LaBine and Jayvon O'Quinn.

Speed and schemes help the Ponies overcome size matchups that weigh against them.

"We have good athletes," Gullikson said. "And Rick has been a defensive coach for about 30 years. He's paid his dues and knows what he's doing. He puts our kids in the right place to make plays.

"If we had bigger guys, we'd probably play them. But you don't worry about what you don't have; you deal with what you have. We try to keep our guys on the move, shooting gaps and blitzing. Our speed is our advantage."

That speed means tacklers don't have to go it alone.

"Everybody does his responsibility, and we have a lot of gang-tackling," Keaton Laymon said. "When one guy holds a ballcarrier up, we usually have 3-4 guys right there to help take him down. And, even though we're small, we've had good turnouts in the weight room. We're not weak.


"We like to find the ball. Everybody has a chance to find the ball and crack somebody. We love to hit."

Mahnomen offers a challenge to the Ponies' defense. The 2-0 Indians, led by Alex Lavoy, have scored 30 and 32 points in their first two games. Last season, Mahnomen beat Warren-A-O 23-21 -- the most points the Ponies scored in a regular-season game -- before the Ponies scored an 8-6 section playoff win.

"We both have a lot of kids back from last year," Gullikson said. "I think Mahnomen is probably the favorite (in the section). They have a tough line, and Lavoy runs their system well. He'll run all over the place if you let him."

In other area games to watch this week:


- Cavalier at Larimore, Friday: First place in Region 2A is on the line. Both teams are 2-0 in the region and 4-0 overall. Both tams can put points on the board -- Larimore has scored 21 or more points in every game while Cavalier has been even more explosive, scoring 50 or more twice and getting 30 or more in every game.

- Thompson at Lakota/Adams-Edmore, Friday: The winner takes the lead in 9-man Region 3. Both teams are 3-1 overall and the lone unbeatens left in region play, L-A-E at 1-0 and Thompson at 2-0. Both teams have big-play backs, Brody Hjelmstad for the Tommies and Tate Aronson for the Raiders.

- Towner-Granville-Upham at North Star, Friday: These two, as well as Wells County, are unbeaten in Region 4 9-man play. Both teams have big-play quarterbacks, Jacob Hagler for North Star and all-stater Tyler Thorson for T-G-U.


- Hillsboro at Hankinson, Friday: It's a rematch from last season's 9-man state playoff semifinals, when Hankinson rallied to score 21 points in the final 3:11 to beat Hillsboro 29-20. The game halted Hillsboro's bid for a repeat state title; Hankinson went on to win state.


- Badger-Greenbush-Middle River at Lake of the Woods, Thursday: It's a rematch of last season's Section 8A championship match. Both teams suffered heavy graduation losses, but their programs are solid. And both can build around some strong returners, with Erin Efta leading the way for B-G-MR and Shelby Nosan for defending 8A-champion Lake of the Woods.

DeVillers reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send e-mail to .

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