Mahnomen enjoying quite a 'run' as ground game does plenty of damage
Mahnomen, Minn. - Simple and boring is good, or at least it has been for the Mahnomen high school football program over the years.
So what has simple and boring done for Mahnomen? Try six state championship titles, 20 state playoff appearances and a chance to win the Class 1A championship Friday, starting at 1 p.m. inside the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
The Indians have used some different variations of boring and simple, with the belly series being the weapon of choice in their state titles in 1980, four in a row from
1990-93 and in 1998, under head coach Ken Baumann.
Now it's the veer-option offense that has been installed by current head coach John Clark Jr., who took over for Baumann in 1999 when he retired after winning the state title in 1998.
But as opposing defenses have learned over the 20-plus years, this type of simple and boring game is lethal.
"We've heard players from other teams say our offense is simple," said senior offensive lineman Aaron Vipond. "But so far, simple is good."
There isn't much to scouting the Indians' offense this season, it's basically been run through junior quarterback Jacob Pavek and senior running back Avery Fairbanks.
The duo have combined for 2,475 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns on the ground. Fairbanks leads the way with 1,466 yards and 19 rushing TDs, while Pavek has garnered 1,009 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground.
It's a pick your poison type of scenario for opposing defenses, which more than likely know what is coming at them - they just can't stop it.
"We really only ran two or three different rushing plays," Clark said, referring to last week's 32-12 semifinal win over Sleepy Eye St. Mary's. "Jacob has been the key for us, because I just see him getting better and better each week. He's making the right reads and his confidence is sky high right now. He's running this veer offense with poise and confidence."
One would think Mahnomen's moving company - the offensive line - is a big, mauling type of machine, as the Indians plod down the field and finish in the end zone.
Not so - in fact, the O-line is almost the opposite of that.
Vipond weighs in at a hefty 185 pounds, while senior tight end Lucas Littlewolf, who has played guard, comes in at 190 pounds. The biggest lineman Mahnomen employs is probably junior Jacob Hedstrom at 210 pounds.
"We're small, but we have gotten stronger over the years," Vipond said. "Before this year when we hit the blocking sled, we just would move it. Now, we tip it over."
The Mahnomen defense also mirrors the ones who took to the gridiron back in the early 1990s, when championships were rolling in like they were on an assembly line.
Hard hits, physical play and the ability to hem in offenses with top-notch speed have left a trail of 13 offenses frustrated in the Indians' wake en route to the championship game.
"We have given up a lot of yards in the second half, but these guys seem to tighten things up when the ball is near our end zone," Clark said. "They have a knack for finding another gear when the other team is near our end zone."
If all this is familiar to Indian fans, it should.
The Baumann era included the same type of play, just with a little bit more running.
"We didn't do much besides the old belly series, where we ran it and ran it and ran it," Baumann said. "A lot of people had a tough time stopping it."
In 1990, the Indians crushed Ogilvie 44-22 in the Class C state semifinals inside the Metrodome. Mahnomen racked up 490 yards of offense, 474 of that coming on the ground, and the offense only put up two passes.
In last week's semifinals against Sleepy Eye St. Mary's, Mahnomen had 333 yards of rushing and Pavek attempted just four passes.
"I wouldn't know how to teach the passing game, I was from an era where you ran the ball," Baumann said. "It's simplistic in its approach, but it seems to work."
Although Clark has run a spread offense in the past.
"But this year, we have kept it pretty simple and I've talked with a lot of the alumni in town and they are loving this smashmouth type of football," Clark said. "We are keeping it Indian style."