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Hillsboro-CV picks off Dickinson Trinity to reach title game

HILLSBORO, N.D.--Anyone thinking Hillsboro-Central Valley was vulnerable following a tight opening-round game in the North Dakota Class A football playoffs were firmly reminded just how dominant the Burros could be Saturday.

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Hillsboro Central Valley's Carson Henningsgard picks off a Dickinson Trinity pass intended for Matt Stafford in the first half Saturday. Dickinson Trinity's Seth Herner (10,) HCV's Mark Hastings and Brayden Schildberger look on. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

HILLSBORO, N.D.-Anyone thinking Hillsboro-Central Valley was vulnerable following a tight opening-round game in the North Dakota Class A football playoffs were firmly reminded just how dominant the Burros could be Saturday.

The Burros dominated from the start, forcing nine turnovers with seven interceptions, in a 44-8 semifinal win over Dickinson Trinity to advance to Friday's state championship game in the Fargodome.

Gavin Wright put the H-CV offense in great position on its opening series, returning a punt 23 yards to the Titan 48. The Burros took advantage of the field position, capping the drive with a 3-yard Micah Gallagher touchdown run.

Starting on the plus side of the field became a theme for Hillsboro-Central Valley, which didn't run a play in its own territory until there was 3 minutes, 34 seconds left to play in the second quarter.

The biggest reason for the great field position was an opportunistic defense that nabbed four of its seven interceptions in the first half. Carson Henningsgard had two first-half picks, with Brayden Schildberger and Gallagher picking off one each. Ezra Longthorne then did the rest, snatching three Aric Knopik passes in the second half.

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"Our coaches do a good job preparing us knowing what routes they're going to run, doing what they can to put us in the spots to make those kinds of plays," Henningsgard said.

Burro Coach Scott Olsen said a big reason his defense had success Saturday was due to a two-high safety look which his team rarely used in the second half of the season and likely didn't show up much on pregame film.

And while the scheme played a big part, Olsen said the main reason for Saturday's success was the simple fact that he has good players on the back end.

"Our DBs are underrated," he said. "They don't get talked about much with our running game and our line, but those guys are good football players."

Often set up on short fields, the run game pounced. Oscar Benson ran for 130 of his 180 yards in the first half, while he, Gallagher and Mark Hastings all found the end zone twice.

Benson says playing on a muddy grass field gave the Burros a decided advantage, as the Titans were unable to make plays on a tough surface.

"Trinity's used to playing on turf," he said. "The last three games it's been (muddy on our field). I think we definitely had the advantage there. We're used to it. We've had a lot of experience on conditions like this."

Winners of 23 games in a row, the Burros are back at the Dakota Bowl next week, where a familiar foe awaits. Following a 22-19 win over Bowman County Saturday, Langdon-Edmore-Munich will look to avenge a 16-14 loss to the Burros in last season's championship game.

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Olsen believes his club will be ready.

"It's exciting," he said of a return trip to the title game. "It's where we wanted to be, it's where we thought we'd be. It's Burro football right now. We're going to do everything it takes to keep winning."

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