A year ago, the Minot High School football team - like most schools in the state - had no trouble handling the Dickinson High Midgets.
The Magicians defeated Dickinson 50-7, the third of five consecutive losses that ended a 2-7 campaign.
Dickinson is competitive again. The Midgets (3-3 overall, 2-2 West Region) enter tonight's game against Minot (5-1, 2-1) in the thick of the playoff race. Dickinson currently holds a half-game lead over Mandan for the fourth and final postseason spot in the region. DHS lost to Bismarck Century by just seven points earlier this season after dropping a 34-0 decision last season.
Tim Chapman/MDN • Minot High School sophomore linebacker Alex Mack and junior defensive back Josh Pizzo corner a Mandan ballcarrier during the Magicians’ win on Sept. 14.
Minot enters the game fresh off its first loss of the season, a 24-21 defeat at Century on Saturday.
"They are a much better team than what we saw last year," MHS coach Barry Holmen said. "Watching film, they took Century and Bismarck (a 49-6 loss) in terms of physical play up front for much of those two contests. They lost by a touchdown to Century, so this is a quality opponent that we're seeing this week. I wish we had that extra day to prepare for them because we have some real concerns."
Each team struggled offensively for long stretches in its last game. Against Williston, the Midgets scored 16 points in the second quarter but didn't score the rest of the game and escaped with a 16-6 win.
The Magicians didn't find the end zone until the second half at Century and never found much offensive success until the final two drives.
"We kinda seemed to turn it on in the last couple minutes there when we needed to," senior wide receiver Brandon Van Dusen said. "We just need to make sure we come out with that intensity instead of waiting 'til the fourth quarter when we need to score points. We need to come out right away and score points."
When Dennis Morris became Dickinson's coach in 2010, he scrapped the offensive scheme and brought in a run-heavy hybrid wing-T.
The Midgets expect to rely on junior running back Michael Cherwinski for much of their offense. For Cherwinski to have success against Minot's linebackers and all-senior defensive line, Morris said the offensive line must stay focused.
"It doesn't matter who the kids are or if they know what we're running," Morris said. "We've got to get the job done either way. Minot's d-line and linebackers are a great crew. It's a really great test for us. We've got to be alignment and assignment-sharp."
Defensively, Dickinson will put eight men in the box as part of its 4-4 defensive scheme. Morris said the key to getting a victory may come with stopping MHS junior quarterback Alex Yanosko both on the ground and through the air.
A Dickinson win likely guarantees the Midgets a berth in the state playoffs. Mandan has three games left, two of them coming against undefeated Bismarck High and the current No. 2 seeded Century. Even if Dickinson loses, they'll at least have a winner-gets-in regular season finale against Mandan on Oct. 17.
"Playoffs are a prize for people that don't have playoff experience," Morris said. "That's why we work as hard as we do."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Mountain time.