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After winning two games in three years, Larimore football is back in the 9-man playoff field

The Polar Bears visit North Star in the first round of Saturday's North Dakota 9B state playoffs.

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Larimore quarterback Eric Hoffmann looks for room to run against New Rockford-Sheyenne on Oct. 7, 2022, in Larimore, N.D.
Tiffany Stromberg / Special to the Herald
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LARIMORE, N.D. — When Larimore football went through a 2-22 record the last three seasons, including winless seasons in 2019 and 2020, the Polar Bears often had to find small victories within a game.

"The last couple of years, my coaching philosophy has been trying to figure out things we can achieve — smaller successes have been the focus," Larimore coach Kal Triplett said. "We weren't worried about winning the scoreboard."

That's changed this year, as Larimore is back in the North Dakota 9-man playoffs for the first time since 2018. The Polar Bears take a 4-4 record and the Region 3 No. 3 seed into Saturday's North Dakota 9B state playoffs. Larimore visits Region 4 No. 2 North Star at 2 p.m. in Cando.

"I think the team has built better chemistry and worked together better," Larimore running back-linebacker Colter Thorsell said.

The numbers game can be a challenge in a small town. The Polar Bears have 25 kids out for football this season compared to 23 last year. Triplett expects a boost of about 12 players from the eighth-grade level next year to offset losing eight seniors and six two-way starters.

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In 2018, the last time Larimore made the playoffs, it started the season with 13 players and ended the year with 11.

The Polar Bears had to play an independent schedule in 2019 and 2020 because Larimore was still classified as an 11-man school, despite the low participation numbers.

It was a far cry from even five years earlier. The Polar Bears won eight games in every season from 2012-2016.

"I think it's our senior leadership," Triplett said of the improvement. "Our kids have matured and kids bought into the weight room a little more this summer. That's made a difference with our size up front, where we have three kids who are 250-plus, so they can move some bodies.

"This year, as a coach, is why I do what I do: Seeing those kids finally having success on a game on a Friday night."

Thorsell, in his first season as the featured back in Larimore, leads the Polar Bears with 159 carries for 902 yards and nine touchdowns.

"Hard and aggressive," Thorsell said of his running style. "I try to get to my hole as fast as I can and hope my blockers can beat me there."

Larimore quarterback Eric Hoffmann has ran 52 times for 319 yards and three touchdowns. Through the air, the senior is 17-for-42 for 490 yards and six touchdowns.

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Thorsell is the leading receiver with 268 yards on nine catches and two touchdowns. Sophomore Avery Gratton has nine catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

The line is paced by seniors Jebb Gerszewski, Lane McCoy and William Stover.

Larimore's first-round opponent North Star features a balanced attack. North Star, 4-4 this season, is led by junior quarterback Dane Hagler.

"North Star rides its athletes well," Triplett said. "They complement each other, whether it's spread or run-heavy, you have to defend the whole field against them."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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