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AREA GAMES TO WATCH: Warren-A-O gets defensive in switch to 9-man

Switching to 9-man football hasn't been the experience Tony Gullikson had anticipated. The Gullikson-coached Warren-Alvarado-Oslo program had always played 11-man until going to 9-man this season. "We've always had a sticky defense," Gullikson said.

Switching to 9-man football hasn't been the experience Tony Gullikson had anticipated.

The Gullikson-coached Warren-Alvarado-Oslo program had always played 11-man until going to 9-man this season.

"We've always had a sticky defense," Gullikson said. "We expected it to be strong again. But 9-man is a more wide open game. With two fewer players on the field, there are more big plays, more scoring."

But the Ponies are undefeated led by their sticky defense. Warren-A-O matches 5-0 records when it hosts Win-E-Mac on Friday. They're two of the three undefeated teams, along with Kittson County Central, left in Section 8 nine-man.

Warren-A-O has allowed an average of only 5.2 points per game. That's the stingiest scoring defense statewide in Minnesota 9-man. Overall, only two teams in the state have better defensive scoring averages, Class A Mahnomen (4.0 ppg allowed) and Class AAA Tri-City United (4.8 ppg allowed).

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So, at a level where high-scoring games are commonplace, why has Warren-A-O been so stingy?

Gullikson points to two groups -- bookend 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive ends Peter Durand and Danny Schmidt and the linebacker trio of Matt Bergh on the inside flanked by Jesse Pineda and Dillon Novak.

"Linebackers have more responsibilities in 9-man," Gullikson said. "You have to have strong and fast linebackers, guys who can adjust and move on the fly. As we learn the 9-man game, our linebackers are getting better and better.

"And you want to keep the ball between the tackles. Our ends haven't put up big stats. But they're big, strong guys. They've done a good job of containing the outside, steering the ball inside where other guys can make plays."

The Ponies haven't beaten a team with more than two wins yet. Gullikson said the test lies ahead when W-A-O plays Waubun, Ada-Borup and, this Friday, Win-E-Mac. The Patriots are coming off a 46-27 win against Ada-Borup, handing the Cougars -- ranked sixth in the state last week -- their first loss.

The Patriots will challenge W-A-O with a high-powered offense. Zac Tradewell puts up big throwing numbers at quarterback and there's a strong 1-2 running combination in Keaton Stuhaug and Devin Faldet.

"They're the complete package," Gullikson said. "They have a very physical line. They're fast in the backfield and can throw the ball. And it looks like they're playing on all cylinders."

Other area games to watch this week include:

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Football

• North Prairie at Park River/Fordville-Lankin, Friday: North Prairie is off to a 5-1 start (4-0 in Region 2A) with a strong running game led by Jeff Gailfus. Park River/Fordville-Lankin (3-1 in Region 2A, 4-1 overall) counters with an aerial attack led by quarterback Abraham Hankey and receiver Levi Cudmore.

• Cavalier at Hatton-Northwood, Friday: Hatton-Northwood has adapted well to 9-man, winning four straight after losing its opener and outscoring opponents 208-86. Cavalier? All the 4-0 Tornadoes have done is outscore opponents 280-0, with a season low of 58 points in a game.

Volleyball

• Langdon at Rolla, Tuesday: Both teams are undefeated in District 8 play. Both teams have a lot of experienced players back from last season, when Rolla finished third in the Region 4 tournament and Langdon won the region en route to a second-place finish at state.

• Win-E-Mac at Thief River Falls, Thursday: This is probably the premier match of the season in northwest Minnesota. Both teams are top-10 ranked teams this season, Win-E-Mac in Class A and TRF in Class AA. Both have experienced lineups back from a year ago, when both teams won Section 8 titles and Win-E-Mac placed fourth at the Class A state tournament while the Prowlers finished fifth at the Class AA state tournament.

• Carrington at Lakota-Edmore, Thursday: Both big-hitting teams are undefeated in District 7 play. Lakota-Edmore has the trio of Fallyn Freije, Shaye Ronningen and Mary Haman at the net, while the Cardinals have the one-two punch of Kayla Hochhalter and Madison Wendel.

DeVillers reports on sports. Call him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1128; or send e-mail to gdevillers@gfherald.com .

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