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In first year back from 6-man football, North Border surging to second round of 9-man playoffs

After losing to New Rockford-Sheyenne by 10 during the regular season, North Border opened the 9-man playoffs with a 34-point win over the Rockets.

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The North Border football team gets ready for the second half of their 6-man playoff game at Walhalla, October 15, 2021. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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PEMBINA, N.D. — The transition back from 6-man football in 2021 to 9-man football in 2022 didn't start great for North Border.

The Eagles lost two of their first three games.

"We hadn't found ourselves yet," North Border coach Tim Hartje said. "After that, we got in a groove and defensively started to stop some people."

North Border's turnaround was evident to start the North Dakota 9-man playoffs last Saturday as the Eagles, who lost to New Rockford-Sheyenne by 10 in Week 2, beat the Rockets by 34 in the postseason rematch.

Now, the Eagles (6-3 overall) will need to reverse another regular-season defeat in Round 2. North Border draws North Prairie, a team the Eagles lost to 48-22 in Week 3.

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"We've grown as a team," North Border senior quarterback T.J. Cosley said. "It was getting more reps throughout the year. We had guys going from 6-man, where we lost three starters. You have only six guys on the field and you only return three of them, so we didn't have varsity experience. After Game 9, they're no longer inexperienced. It really showed the second time (against New Rockford-Sheyenne)."

North Border jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the playoff opener. Cosley finished 8-for-16 passing for 134 yards and two touchdowns, while Carson Brown had 17 carries for 191 yards and Ayden Stainbrook had a touchdown returned for an interception.

For North Border's skill players, the transition back to 9-man wasn't as challenging as it was for the linemen. A center can be eligible in 6-man football.

"The biggest part is the rules," Cosley said. "Last year, it was learning a whole new way of football. But from fourth grade, we all grew up playing 9-man. Last year in 6-man, it was based on flat-out speed at positions. (In 9-man), it's a lot more teamwork and mental. Coverage is a lot harder. It's more mental than anything.

"For our sophomores and younger kids, the first thing they learned was 6-man football. So for a lot of our freshmen, and we have two or three starting for us, learning 9-man this year is a big jump. Credit to them."

On the year, Brown leads the team in rushing with 974 yards on 107 carries with 14 touchdowns. Cosley has added 101 carries for 604 yards and eight touchdowns. T.J.'s sophomore brother, Grant Cosley, has 33 carries for 239 yards and five touchdowns.

Through the air, T.J. is 53-for-115 for 871 yards, 13 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He's spread the ball around in the passing game, with Brown (252 yards), Stainbrook (249), Grant Cosley (222), Marcus Halldorson (152) and Grayson Ohmann (132). T.J. Cosley also has 11 catches for 183 yards and three touchdowns during the games Grant Cosley played quarterback to start the season before the Eagles swapped the Cosley brothers' positions.

"They're very athletic kids," Hartje said of the Cosleys. "They want to win. They hate losing. They give it their all."

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Defensively, Brown leads the team with 92.5 tackles. Ethan Stegman has 57 tackles including 11.0 for loss. T.J. Cosley has five interceptions.

North Border will be the underdog at 2 p.m. in Rolla in the rematch against North Prairie. But the Eagles have shown they can hang with anybody, as North Border lost to Cavalier 14-8. The Tornadoes are undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the final state 9-man poll.

North Prairie is also unbeaten and ranked No. 5. North Border and North Prairie were tied at 22 at halftime in the regular season before T.J. Cosley was injured and missed the second half.

"We've hung with (two teams in the state poll)," Brown said. "I think (the state playoffs) are pretty wide open."

North Prairie's center is 6-foot-5, 260-pound junior Nate Tastad, who has scholarship offers from both UND and North Dakota State.

"We feel we can play with anyone in the state," T.J. Cosley said. "You have to have that mindset. Defensively, we weren't very sound early in the year. We had to step up. When healthy, our nine can play with anyone."

N.D. 9-man playoffs
Saturday’s second round
Maple River at LaMoure-Litchville-Marion
Surrey at St. John
North Star at Cavalier
Wyndmere-Lidgerwood at May-Port-C-G
Hettinger County at New Salem-Almont
South Border at Grant Co./Flasher
North Border at North Prairie
Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn at Divide County

Related Topics: PEMBINA
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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