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GGF football this week: Polk County West opens with tough test at Mahnomen-Waubun

Mahnomen-Waubun won Section 8A last season and stifled Polk County West 12-3 to end the Thunder season in the section semifinals.

Polk County West 9.jpg
Mahnomen-Waubun senior Loden Clark concentrates on catching a pass as Polk County West defenders Landen Denny (10) and Sam Gapp close in during their game Saturday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Mahnomen, Minnesota. Korrie Wenzel / Grand Forks Herald
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EAST GRAND FORKS — Polk County West won't ease into a new era after graduating veteran offensive playmaker Sam Gapp from a year ago.

The Thunder open the 2022 season Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Mahnomen-Waubun, the defending Minnesota Section 8A champions.

"It'll definitely show us where we're at and where we need to be," Polk County West coach Darrin Byklum said.

Mahnomen-Waubun lost some of its star power from the section championship team but the Thunderbirds return all but one offensive lineman for a run-heavy offense.

Senior Dennis Ashley will take over at quarterback for Tanner Pazdernik.

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Ashley ran 75 times for 658 yards (8.8 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns in 2021. He completed all four of his passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. He also caught nine passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.

A potential rising star is physical sophomore fullback Curtis Mehr, who started at linebacker for Mahnomen-Waubun a year ago before suffering an injury. Mehr had 16 carries for 105 yards in 2021.

Like Mahnomen-Waubun, Polk County West will also be led by its linemen.

"I like what we're getting done up front," Byklum said. "Our skill guys are coming along nicely. We'll hang our hat on what we have up front."

The Thunder's new quarterback will be Breck Bloom, a senior who played football as a sophomore but didn't play as a junior.

"He's been a pleasant surprise," Byklum said. "He's taking ownership and thrown the ball and running the offense. I know he's only going to get better as the year goes on."

EGF Senior High at Pequot Lakes

East Grand Forks Senior High opens the season against Pequot Lakes at 7 p.m. Thursday on the road.

The Green Wave opened with a 27-12 win over Pequot Lakes last year in East Grand Forks on a rainy night.

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"It'll be a game of adjustments and seeing if they're running things like last year," East Grand Forks coach Ryan Kasowski said.

Pequot Lakes returns quarterback Grant Loge, who threw for 151 yards against the Wave last season. Riggs Magnusson is also an athletic weapon for the Pequot Lakes offense.

"They always have good skill guys," Kasowski said. "It'll come down to making adjustments and figuring out what they're trying to do."

The Wave expect to run a two-quarterback system with senior Landon Woidtke as more of a runner and junior Drew Carpenter in more of a passing role.

"They have both played well and give us two different body types and looks," Kasowski said.

GF Central at Fargo South

In Grand Forks Central's Week 2 loss to No. 2 Fargo North, the Knights' breakout talents were wide receiver Leo Strandell and running back Jack Simmers.

Strandell caught nine balls for 118 yards and a touchdown. The week before, in a blowout win over Watford City, he didn't have a catch.

Simmers had 51 rushing yards and 68 receiving yards against North. He had minus-2 rushing yards in the big win against Watford City.

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Central coach Jake Schauer said some of that is the nature of the offensive scheme.

"Our offense is built to get the ball to five or six guys," Schauer said. "When the defense is giving us something, we're ready. We liked how (North) was defending (Strandell) and exploited a coverage. This week, maybe it's Leo, maybe it's a new guy."

The Knights moved the ball successfully against the Spartans but struggled to finish off drives.

"I think it's learning how to finish," Schauer said. "It's digging deep and getting gritty. Good teams finish drives and that's how good teams win games."

GF Red River at Wahpeton

After falling to No. 1-ranked Jamestown, Grand Forks Red River will look to get back to winning ways at Wahpeton on Friday night.

Wahpeton is coming off a 21-12 win over Devils Lake in which Huskies running back Treyton Mauch ran 12 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

Red River coach Vyrn Muir said the Riders made some critical mistakes to let Jamestown pull away in the second half of an otherwise tight matchup.

"We're close," Muir said. "We just didn't do enough things to guarantee a chance at the end of the game. We made some mistakes that we can't have if we want to be the kind of team we think we can be at the end of the year."

Red River sophomore quarterback Pearce Parks continues to make strides in his first two career starts.

The younger brother of UND linebacker Paine Parks, Pearce started his career with 103 yards against Williston. He followed with 213 passing yards against the defending state champion Blue Jays.

Parks has ran for three touchdowns but has no passing touchdowns to three interceptions.

"We're pleased with what he's done so far and the experience he's gained last week against a pressure-heavy team and a state championship program," Muir said. "He went through that battle and handled all these things pretty impressively for a sophomore."

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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