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In 27th season as head coach, Fertile-Beltrami's Brian Nelson knows how tough it can be to reach a state championship game

The Falcons play LeRoy-Ostrander in the Minnesota 9-man state championship game at 10 a.m. Saturday at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

1.DSC_9130.Everett Balstad Touchdown.JPG
Fertile-Beltrami senior running back Everett Balstad fights his way into the end zone for a second-half touchdown in the Falcons' 30-22 win over Hills-Beaver Creek at U.S. Bank Stadium in the 9-man Minnesota state football semifinals on Nov. 19, 2021. Eric Morken / Forum News Service

Fifteen years ago, Fertile-Beltrami coach Brian Nelson was in the Metrodome in Minneapolis on the doorstep of a state championship berth.

With 38 seconds left in the state semifinals, Fertile-Beltrami's Joey Henderson took a pitch left on a fourth-and-4 from the New Ulm Cathedral 8-yard line.

When Henderson reached the 5, New Ulm Cathedral defenders swarmed and the Falcons were held inches short of a first down.

"I guess when they say it's a game of inches, it's pretty true," Nelson told the Herald in 2006. Cathedral hung on for a 14-7 victory in the Class A semifinals.

So on Saturday, when the Falcons play LeRoy-Ostrander in the Minnesota 9-man state championship game at 10 a.m. at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Nelson has plenty of appreciation for the opportunity at hand.

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"(In 2006), it was just a game of two evenly matched teams and we stuck with our guns with what we do best and came up a little short," said Nelson, who has coached the Falcons for 27 years. "Last week, we did the same thing and came out ahead. This time of year, you're not going to change your identity."

Local businesses have helped the communities charter five buses headed down to the state championship game.

"The community support has been unbelievable," said Nelson, who has a career record of 171-94.

Nelson said the 2006 Fertile-Beltrami team, which went to the state semifinals at the 11-man Class A level, and this year's 9-man Falcons program have similarities.

Both teams were built around the running game but had capable passers. In 2006, it was Paul Reese at quarterback. In 2021, it's Rylin Petry.

Balstad is approaching 1,800 yards rushing this season, as he has 219 carries for 1,775 yards and 30 touchdowns. Levi Qualley is Fertile-Beltrami's next top rusher with 86 runs for 798 yards.

Petry, who has already led Fertile-Beltrami to a state golf championship, has thrown for 884 yards and 14 touchdowns with only one interception this year.

"We had a mix of run and pass, especially in play-action and that's like this year with Everett Balstad being our main guy but Petry has done a good job this year, too," Nelson said. "These teams are very similar in that aspect."

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Fertile-Beltrami held off a move to 9-man for 12 years, opting up to play 11-man. In 2019, the Falcons moved to 9-man.

"We had good teams but couldn't quite get over the hump," Nelson said. "We felt like we didn't have the numbers to keep playing 11-man, so it's pretty special now to do this in 9-man."

Fertile-Beltrami at a glance

Coach: Brian Nelson.

Record: 13-0.

Path to state championship game: After beating Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal 26-20 in the section championship game, the Falcons knocked off Mountain Iron-Buhl 44-22 in the state quarterfinals and Hills-Beaver Creek 30-22 in the semifinals.

Rushing leaders: Everett Balstad 219 carries-1,775 yards, 30 touchdowns; Levi Qualley 86-798, 9 TDs; Derek Sorenson 83-438, 2 TDs; Isaiah Wright 46-445, 7 TDs.

Passing leaders: Rylin Petry 59-94-1, 884 yards, 14 touchdowns.

Receiving leaders: Balstad 24 catches-493 yards, 8 touchdowns; Qualley 9-119, 3 TDs; Ryan Van Den Einde 12-163, 2 TDs.

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Defensive leaders: Tyler Stuhaug 94 tackles, Balstad 72 tackles, Derek Sorenson 60 tackles, Tucker Bolstad 46 tackles.

Championship opponent: LeRoy-Ostrander, 11-2.

Coach Nelson says: "This quarterback is very difficult to tackle. We've seen him make a lot of people miss. He's got a good arm, too. The tailback is big and powerful, and you have to tackle low. Defensively, they send people so we have to be able to handle that pressure. On the line, they're tall and lean. Hills-Beaver Creek was big but this team is maybe more athletic on the offensive and defensive line."

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