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Mahnomen-Waubun's 'let's bore them to death' strategy works like a charm in win over Red Lake County

The Thunderbirds earned a 32-0 win Thursday to claim the Section 8A title and now advance to the eight-team state tournament.

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Red Lake County's Damon Ferguson runs with the ball as his helmet goes flying while Mahnomen-Waubun's Brok Spalla looks on in the second half of their Minnesota Section 8A championship game Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at the Fargodome.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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FARGO – Mahnomen-Waubun coach John Clark Jr. had a unique game plan for his team’s Section 8A title game matchup against Red Lake County here Thursday.

“We talked and said ‘let’s bore them to death tonight. Let’s bore them to death.' And we did in the first half. It had to be boring to watch,” Clark said. “But for us coaches, it was great. We kept pounding it and the kids bought into it.”

The Thunderbirds (9-1) relied extensively on a run-heavy, between-the-tackles approach and rolled to a punishing 19-0 first-half lead en route to a 32-0 win over Red Lake County in front of a modest but loud Fargodome crowd.

Mahnomen-Waubun’s first drive set the tone for the game. The Thunderbirds took the opening kick and went on an 18-play drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock before ending with a 1-yard touchdown dive by sophomore running back Easton Bevins.

Of those 18 plays, senior quarterback Dennis Ashley carried 10 times, almost entirely into the brunt of the Red Lake County defensive front.

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Although the Thunderbirds’ offensive efforts in the first half won’t necessarily populate the team’s Hudl account – an online highlight service used by most high school teams nowadays – it was effective nonetheless. They carried 36 times for 122 yards, averaging only about 3.5 yards per carry, in the first two quarters.

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Red Lake County quarterback Owen Chervestad is sacked by Mahnomen-Waubun's Mike Weaver in the second half of their game on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, in Fargo.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

“We stick with it until they stop it,” Clark said. “Our kids really believe that 3 or 4 yards is a good play because it gets you first downs. The kids have bought into the theory of grinding out first downs and wearing teams down and keeping their offense off the field.”

The plan worked Thursday. Case in point: Red Lake County ran just nine offensive plays in the first two quarters – not counting three punts – and didn’t get a first down until 8:30 remained in the fourth quarter. The Rebels had five turnovers.

Mahnomen-Waubun scored twice in the second half, but it was moot. The Thunderbirds’ effort in the first half generally answered any questions about which team would advance into the eight-team state tournament.

After Bevins’ short first-quarter touchdown, running back Curtis Mehr scored on a 1-yard run with 9:45 left in the second quarter, and Tanner Stech hit a 26-yard field goal with eight seconds left.

Coming out after halftime, the Thunderbirds felt “great – amazing,” Ashley said after the game.

“Compared to last game, we started out super slow and they destroyed us in the first half. We just wanted to play our game and keep pounding the ball. Three yards is all we need every play,” he said. “And our line did great today.”

Ashley had 15 carries for 48 yards in the first half and finished with 132 yards on 24 carries, highlighted by a 56-yard run in the fourth quarter. He also threw for 59 yards, going 4-of-7. One of those completions was a 16-yard touchdown to Stech, just a freshman.

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Donner Jameson added 45 yards on 11 carries and, overall, the Thunderbirds had 350 yards of offense. MW’s final touchdown came on a 3-yard run by Curt Bellefuille, with 2:15 to play.

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Mahnomen-Waubun's Tyson McArthur and teammates celebrate their Minnesota Section 8A championship over Red Lake County Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at the Fargodome.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Red Lake County didn’t fare as well offensively, although the Rebels moved the ball somewhat better in the second half. Turnovers were fatal to any comeback effort, however.

“We had a couple of chances early that we didn’t capitalize on,” said Red Lake County coach Brian Remick, likely referring to a stumble on on a first-quarter kickoff return, as well as an incomplete pass shortly thereafter. Both appeared to be excellent opportunities to strike early. “They really dominated both sides of the ball.”

After being shut down in the first half, Red Lake County senior Damon Ferguson showed some flashes in the final two quarters, gaining 35 yards on 12 carries.

Red Lake County ends the season 8-3.

“All in all, it was a good year,” Remick said.

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Mahnomen-Waubun's Dennis Ashley slips a tackle by Red Lake County's Owen Chervestad in the first half of their Minnesota Section 8A championship at the Fargodome on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.


As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.



Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
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