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Houston tries to turn tables on Verndale

Teams met last year, also in

a state quarterfinal

By Scott A. Kolb

skolb@postbulletin.com

Houston will get a chance for revenge in Friday night’s state Nine-Man football quarterfinals against Verndale, the only team it has lost to in the last two years.

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It will be a different site for the rematch, but the Hurricanes haven’t forgotten how they were roughed up in last year’s state loss to the Pirates. Last year, Verndale beat Houston by 16 points in the state quarterfinals at Hamline University in St. Paul.

This year in the first round at state, the rematch will take place on the artificial turf field at Spring Lake High School. Both teams received high state rankings this season for the scoring prowess of their prolific offenses.

The Hurricanes scored 45 points in winning their second straight section title last Friday night in front of the home fans. The Pirates put up 46 points in winning the Section Four title. Houston has scored 40 points or more in 10 of its 11 games this season. Verndale has gone over 40 points in eight games.

"We’re looking forward to playing Verndale again," Houston coach Jason Freed said of the quarterfinals round matchup. "We know it will be a physical game against the Pirates, but we’re excited to get another shot at them."

With the loss in the section finals by top-ranked Stephen-Argyle, the winner of the last five state titles, the door is now wide open for the winner of this game to claim the state championship. This is a battle between the highest-ranked teams left in the state.

Getting past the Pirates will be a tough task for the Hurricanes’ defense. Verndale is a ground-oriented team and averaged 386 yards rushing per game. The Pirates have attempted only 34 passes on the season.

Pirates tailback Matt Moenkedick is the biggest offensive weapon as he’s rushed for 1,895 yards on the season and 26 touchdowns. Amos Schmidt is also a threat out of the offensive backfield with 933 yards rushing on the season and 17 touchdowns.

This is a big-play offense with a powerful ground attack. Moenkedick and Schmidt have each run for touchdowns in excess of 60 yards this season.

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"That’s their identity, they run out of the wishbone and

I-formations and they come north-south right at you," Freed said. "They always have a very physical team. We’re going to have to focus on winning first down on defense, then try to put them in some longer yardage situations. We have to stay disciplined and not give them the big plays. We’ll have to man up and match their physicality along the line of scrimmage."

Hurricanes quarterback Andy Sires can pick up a few rushing yards off the scramble, but he’s a much bigger threat with his powerful arm. Sires has thrown for 1,334 yards this season and 23 touchdowns.

The favorite target for Sires this season has been Brett Benson, with nine touchdown catches.

"Andy has matured a lot at quarterback, he’s a leader and has become a student of the game," the coach said. "He enjoys the chess match of what the defenses throw at you. He’s matured in reading defenses, he’s our field general and does a great job of directing the offense. We have a lot of offensive options and he can find the weakness on the defense."

Five players from Houston were named to the All-Southeast Conference team. Sires, Kevin Lindh, Zach Stackhouse, Benson, and Trent Kerrigan were chosen to the first team and five others were listed as honorable mention.

Lindh is the leading rusher for Houston with 1,228 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season. Kerrigan has 667 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns, and Stackhouse has added nearly 400 yards on the ground.

"It was nice to win the section title again, but we have unfinished business at state," Lindh said in reference to the rematch with the Pirates.

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Last year, the Hurricanes and Pirates were tied at halftime, so they have the confidence level to play with the Pirates.

They also have the added advantage of their alumni bringing a colorful old school bus to the game. Hurricanes fans from the Class of 1966 have adorned the bus with peace signs and other psychedelic symbols from that era, which seems to bring good luck to their team. Houston has a 22-1 record over the last two seasons.

"Its going to be important for us to stay balanced on offense," Freed concluded.

"We have a very talented group of backs, and our line can move guys. The loss to them last year was a pretty big motivator, and now it’s time for us to rise to the occasion. The bus will be there, and there are a lot of Hurricanes faithful living in the Twin Cities area, so I expect a big crowd."

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