The future is planned for Zach Riopelle, who has committed to play football at North Dakota State. The present is strong, as Riopelle and his Warren-Alvarado-Oslo football teammates are off to a 3-0 start.

The future is planned for Zach Riopelle, who has committed to play football at North Dakota State. The present is strong, as Riopelle and his Warren-Alvarado-Oslo football teammates are off to a 3-0 start.

But the past helps to drive him.

Riopelle sees payback time Friday when the Ponies host Mahnomen in a matchup of unbeatens. The game is a rematch of the 2010 Section 8A football championship, in which Mahnomen beat W-A-O 20-6 to advance into the state playoffs.

That the teams no longer are section opponents (Mahnomen switched to 6A this season) doesn't matter to Riopelle.

"What we heard all last year was, 'This is going to be our year,'" Riopelle said. "We had so much experience and talent on that team. And then Mahnomen comes along. I haven't forgotten about that game. It still makes me sick. We were in the red zone several times, but we didn't capitalize.


"We haven't talked about (that game) much. But after that game, I'm out for blood on every play."

The Ponies have a lot of players with memories of that game, as four starters on offense and seven starters on defense return. Warren-A-O coach Tony Gullikson said that loss has been incentive for some of the Ponies, particularly the linebacker quartet of Riopelle, Colton Laymon, Sam Gibson and Jayvon O'Quinn.

The loss "was instant disappointment," Gullikson said. "But some of the kids took it to heart, as a challenge. They worked hard in the weight room in the offseason. I think they're excited for the chance to avenge that game."

Mahnomen, with its run-oriented offense led by quarterback Jacob Pavek and halfback Avery Fairbanks, is 3-0 and has outscored its opponents 135-8. Warren-A-O has a 130-20 scoring advantage led by running backs Riopelle (385 rushing yards) and Andrew Lansing (219 rushing yards) and O'Quinn (131 yards rushing) at quarterback. The Ponies' defense has 17 takeaways.

"Mahnomen is talented in the backfield and has a good group of linemen," Gullikson said. "They grind it out with their option, but if you're not sharp they can break a big play. We're more of a power team. Riopelle and Lansing are both big and fast, and Lansing is one of the best blockers in the area. Our line is inexperienced, but they get after people. Our line might be better than last year."

Last year -- it was one of continuing frustrations for Riopelle and his Ponies teammates who are seeking an elusive berth in a state tournament.

Riopelle is a fifth-year football starter, and the Ponies have lost in the Section 8A final three times in those four seasons. In basketball, Warren-A-O has lost in the 8A final twice in the past three seasons.

"It's painful to think about that," Riopelle said. "We're tired of always being the bridesmaids and not the bride."


In other area games to watch this week:


Cavalier at Hillsboro, Friday: At 5-0, Cavalier is the lone unbeaten remaining in North Dakota's 9-man Region 2, while Hillsboro has only one setback. Both teams rely heavily on the running game, Cavalier with its balance and Hillsboro with its option led by quarterback Brandon Otto.

North Border at Lakota/Adams-Edmore, Friday: Both teams are sitting at 4-1 in North Dakota's 9-man Region 2. There's the potential for offensive fireworks -- Lakota/A-E has scored 34 or more points in four straight games, while North Border has scored 62 in two straight games and has 40 or more in four games.

Goodridge-Grygla at Climax-Fisher, Friday: Both teams are 2-1 and figure to be in the race for the Minnesota Section 8 9-man title. Goodridge-Grygla is defending section champion, while Climax-Fisher is one of the section's most experienced teams.


Win-E-Mac at Fosston, Tuesday: Win-E-Mac is defending Section 8A champion. Fosston was eliminated in the section playoffs in the East subsection championship. Both teams have a strong nucleus returning from those squads.

Grafton tournament, Saturday: Some of the top teams in northeastern North Dakota are scheduled to compete. Entrants include Central Valley, Thompson, Hatton-Northwood, North Border, Rolla-Rock Lake, defending Region 2 champion Park River/Fordville-Lankin and defending state champion Langdon.

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