In the aftermath of TGU's 50-6 first-round defeat in the 9-man state playoffs last year, Titans coach Scott Thorson made a couple of organizational changes.
Thorson implemented a weightlifting program to help the team get stronger and not as easily outmuscled by the state's bigger teams. He also made a couple of position switches.
By moving junior Kendal Green from quarterback to fullback and Eli Luna from tailback to quarterback, Thorson gave Luna - TGU's sophomore playmaker - another spot to excel.
MDN File Photo
TGU sophomore Eli Luna returns a kickoff against Surrey during an August game at Herb Parker Stadium. Luna and the Titans face Divide County on Saturday in a 9-man playoff semifinal.
Luna has led the undefeated Titans to the semifinals, where TGU (10-0) faces Divide County on Saturday for the first time since the Maroons' six-touchdown win in last year's postseason.
Luna, also a punter, kicker, defensive back and punt/kick returner, has thrown 14 touchdowns to just one interception this season. After scoring 13 touchdowns as a tailback last year, Luna has rushed for 11 scores this season while racking up 943 yards. He's kicked 23 extra points, recorded 32 tackles and picked off a team-high five passes.
"There's not much he can't do," Thorson said. "That's why he's in those spots. A lot of those isn't all because of his athleticism. He's got a pretty good head on his shoulders. For a sophomore, he's pretty cool and in charge out there on the field."
The Titans dropped four games last year by an average of nearly 30 points a game. This year, TGU started the season with an eight-point win against Surrey. After that, TGU beat Drake-Anamoose by 22.
As Luna has settled into his new offensive role, the Titans' offense has grown harder and harder to stop. TGU is scoring more than 45 points per game over its last eight contests, which the Titans have won by an average of 36 points.
"During the first couple of games of the season, I was just getting into the quarterbacking position," Luna said. "Now I'm starting to settle down and taking control."
It's not the first sport Luna is taking control of. He started as point guard for most of his freshman basketball season, is a pitcher and shortstop for the baseball team and a sprinter for the track squad (TGU co-ops with Rugby in baseball and track).
"My mom always told me I always had a ball in my hand ever since I was little," Luna said.
Said junior guard Luke Bacon: "He sleeps and dreams sports. Breathes it. If there's a sport to be played, I think he'll play it."
Luna's dominance has helped open up running lanes for Green and senior running back Ridge Bachmeier. The three are in the backfield together for I-formation and two-wing sets.
Green has run for 597 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns. Bachmeier has chipped in with seven scores on the ground and averages more than seven yards per carry.
"It's a challenge for us to come up with our own ideas on how we'd stop these kids," Thorson said, "let alone someone who's not as familiar to do that."
A win in Crosby sends TGU to the Dakota Bowl for the first time since 1993, when it lost to Wyndmere-Lidgerwood. It would give the Titans a chance for their first state championship.
It's also an opportunity for Luna and TGU to exact revenge at the best possible time.
"Oh we're very eager, especially with how much this game means for everybody," Luna said. "We want to make up for last year."
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Saturday.