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Games to watch: Knights emphasize defense

History, playoff-style, has resulted in Dakota Prairie changing its football philosophy this season. "We've had a high-scoring offense," Knights senior Alex Kroke said. "Our defense hasn't been emphasized as much. We'll still be a high-powered of...

History, playoff-style, has resulted in Dakota Prairie changing its football philosophy this season.

"We've had a high-scoring offense," Knights senior Alex Kroke said. "Our defense hasn't been emphasized as much. We'll still be a high-powered offense. But, this year, we're focusing more on defense."

The Knights will be tested on defense in their season opener Tuesday. Dakota Prairie will try to stop all-state running back James Ihry of Hope-Page/Finley-Sharon when the teams meet in Finley.

Dakota Prairie is 19-4 over the past two seasons. But the team is only 3-2 in playoff games in that span, giving up an average of 40.6 points a game in the postseason. Dakota Prairie has won some high-scoring playoffs games (50-44 and 56-51 in 2007). But Dakota Prairie's high-scoring offense hasn't gotten it into a state football championship game.

"Stopping teams has been a problem,'' Knights coach Garrett Magner said. "When teams have matched our athletic abilities in the playoffs and they've been more physical than us, we've been more vulnerable on defense."

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Smaller lineup

The Knights' lineup is smaller than it's been the past few seasons. No starter weighs more than 210 pounds; most are in the 150- to 175-pound range.

Magner is attempting to counter smaller size with a greater emphasis on defense in practices.

"We've done more hitting in practices than we have in the past six years," Magner said. "We've been going full pads and full contact more. Hopefully, that will increase our toughness. If you don't play physical in practice, how can you be physical in games? We haven't allowed our kids to develop an enjoyment of being physical."

Said Kroke: "We're being more physical in practices and we're working more on tackling technique and on breaking free from blockers. It's almost like we've neglected defense, like we weren't mentally focused on it in the past."

Dakota Prairie isn't lacking in offensive options. Quarterback Tyler Luehring threw for 2,059 yards and 25 touchdowns in gaining all-state honors last season. He has top receivers back in Kyle Lamb, Braydon Gourneau, Craig Magnus and Kroke. And Luehring and Lamb rushed for 596 and 593 yards, respectively.

The challenge is Ihry, who was an all-state back as a sophomore in 2007 and rushed for 1,147 yards (7.5 per-carry average) last season.

"It's the James Ihry show," Magner said. "He's very, very good, one of the top players in the state. He's fast and powerful. And any time we've played against a top-notch back, they've been able to run around us.''

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In other area games to watch this week as the 2009-10 school year gets swings into action:

Football

- Valley City at Devils Lake, Friday: Second-place finishers in the North Dakota Class AA state playoffs from the past two seasons meet. Valley City fell to Watford City in the title game last year; Devils Lake was runner-up in 2007, losing to Oak Grove in the final. All-state running back Jason Berg leads a Firebirds offense against a Valley City defense led by all-state linebacker Jared Kohler.

- Maple Valley-Enderlin at Cavalier, Friday: Two teams expected to contend for titles in their Class A regions -- Maple Valley-Enderlin in Region 1 and Cavalier in Region 2 -- meet. Cavalier will put a veteran offense, led by quarterback Jared Mack and running back Dillon Trosen, to a test against a veteran MV-E defense.

- Thompson at Central Valley, Saturday: The long-time rivals have the potential to have a high-scoring meeting. Thompson is led by Garrett Reineke, who had 2,281 all-purpose yards last season, and Brandon Weber, who passed for 1,003 yards. Cody Waslien, who had more than 1,000 combined rushing and passing yards last season, runs the Valiants' offense.

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

Related Topics: PREP SPORTS
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