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PREP FOOTBALL: Cavalier undefeated in first 9-man season

CAVALIER, N.D. -- In its first season of 9-man football, Cavalier has developed into a bomb squad. The Tornadoes keep defusing the explosive offenses they're meeting. Cavalier, a former 11-man power, is off to a 5-0 start as it transitions to 9-m...

CAVALIER, N.D. -- In its first season of 9-man football, Cavalier has developed into a bomb squad.

The Tornadoes keep defusing the explosive offenses they're meeting.

Cavalier, a former 11-man power, is off to a 5-0 start as it transitions to 9-man due to the school's declining enrollment. A major reason for that success is a defense that has allowed only 60 points.

"In 11-man, you see more of teams working the ball downfield, controlling the ball and having long drives," Cavalier coach Sandy Laxdal said. "In 9-man, you have a lot of 50-, 60-yard plays that you don't see as much of in 11-man. You have to be assignment sharp. If one kid blows an assignment, you're probably going to give up a big play because you don't have the luxury of having two extra kids out there to cover up mistakes.

"We've given up some big plays, but we haven't allowed them consistently. I don't know that our defense has been a surprise. These kids have bought into the team concept we've stressed."

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Cavalier, the lone unbeaten left in Region 2, hasn't allowed more than 16 points in a game. After the 60 points given up by the Tornadoes, the next-stingiest team in the region is North Border, which has allowed 96 points.

"It's surprising," junior lineman Spencer Robbins said. "We didn't expect to be holding opponents down this well. The big thing is we're playing as a team, getting everybody involved and getting to the ball."

Of the seven touchdowns the Cavalier defense has allowed (special teams also allowed one), four were on plays covering five or fewer yards.

"The speed factor is a big thing," Laxdal said. "We're extremely quick, and aggressive, at all nine spots. And we've made plays in key situations. We've had kids running ballcarriers down from behind in the open field."

The Tornadoes' strong defense has come with a new look. The lone regulars back from a year ago are linebacker Alex Hartz and Robbins. The 2010 Tornadoes, who finished the regular season undefeated and reached the Class A state semifinals before being eliminated in the playoffs, allowed 56 points in their first five games.

"Last year we had some standouts, kids who accumulated a lot of tackles," Laxdal said. "We had three, four kids who dominated our tackling stats. This year it's more of a team attack on defense. We're getting more kids to the ball.

"You love to see a lot of kids getting to the ball. We're forcing a lot of turnovers, something we didn't do a lot of last year. With more kids active and around the ball, you're going to get more takeaways."

If anything, Laxdal said, the surprise has been an offense that has scored 38 points in every game but one, a 20-14 win against North Border that is the Eagles' lone setback.

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But with the defense Cavalier has played, the burden is off the offense.

"We try to score on every drive," Robbins said. "But we know our defense can hold teams. It takes some pressure off the offense."

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