Linton-Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock compiled a 7-1 record during the regular season, but the one blemish on that mark left a bitter taste in quarterback Cole Baumiller’s mouth.
The Lions held a 22-8 second-half lead over unbeaten Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter on Sept. 29, but the Imperials closed out the contest on a 23-0 run to win 31-22 and wrap up the 9-man Region 3 championship. Napoleon-GS heads into the postseason 8-0.
Baumiller said the loss was difficult to take, but if anything, the Lions learned some lessons that could benefit them in the playoffs, which begin Saturday.
“We have to finish games. We were playing so well against Napoleon, but they were the team that finished strong,” he said. “It was a tough loss, but we learned from it. We know that we have to stay focused and play hard for 48 minutes, especially in the playoffs where every team is a good team.”
The Lions will host Mayville-Portland-Clifford-Galesburg (3-4), the No. 4 seed out of Region 1, Saturday afternoon in a first-round playoff game. Seven other games are on tap, including two involving Region 3 teams – No. 3 seed Kidder County at New Rockford-Sheyenne, and No. 4 Oakes at defending state champion Thompson.
In games involving Region 5 teams, No. 2 seed Shiloh Christian hosts Surrey at Miller Field, No. 3 Beach entertains Towner-Granville-Upham, and No. 4 Mott-Regent-New England travels to Ray-Powers Lake.
Baumiller is a big reason why the Lions have won seven of eight games. The junior has completed 95 of 162 passes for 1,591 yards and 19 touchdowns. Baumiller was expected to be a huge weapon in Linton-HMB’s offensive arsenal after throwing for 1,172 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2016.
“Cole started last year and he has shown so much improvement,” Linton-HMB coach Paul Keeney said. “The time he put into it during the offseason is paying off. His accuracy and his decision-making have improved. He’s cut down on the turnovers, and his quick release gives his receivers an opportunity to do something after the catch. What’s more, he’s become a great leader on the field. That’s what a coach likes to see in his quarterback.”
Jack McCrory has been Baumiller’s favorite target. The senior has 31 receptions for 641 yards and 13 touchdowns. However, Baumiller has several other reliable receivers, including Chandler Nagel (19-271, 2 TDs) and Lance Weiser (18-213, TD).
“Our receivers are doing well. I have lots of options,” Baumiller said. “It starts with the offensive line. They’ve been giving me a ton of time, and the receivers are getting open and making the catches.”
The Lions also have a strong running attack led by Landon Twardoski, who has rushed 143 times for 1,209 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“Landon is very quick and very elusive, but he also runs with power … he’s very hard to bring down,” Keeney said. “He’s also dynamic in the screen game. He has nine catches for 254 yards.”
Defensively, the team leaders include linebackers Bowdy Roemmich (53 tackles) and Weiser (49.5 tackles, 10 for a loss), and nose guard Brayden Schmidt. Nagel and McCrory, both defensive backs, each have three interceptions.
Baumiller said no one should be deceived by May-Port-CG’s 3-4 record.
“They have a losing record, but they were really competitive in their games,” he said. “They have good athletes and they’re quick. It’s playoff time and you can’t overlook anybody.”
One thing the Patriots have going for them is a high-scoring offense, one that averages 32.4 points per game.
“We know we’re going to have our hands full keeping them out of our end zone. They have a number of skill players who are very talented,” Keeney said. “We know they’ll come ready to play.”
Bulldogs eye playoffs
Bowman County’s return to the 11-man football ranks has proven to be a successful one.
The Bulldogs assured themselves of a winning season last Friday night when they blanked Southern McLean 33-0. It was Bowman County’s fifth victory in seven games.
Tonight, the Bulldogs have a chance to take it a step further. A victory over Region 4 foe Beulah (6-1) in the regular-season finale in Beulah would clinch a berth in the Class A playoffs, which begin Oct. 21. Bowman County is 4-2 in region play and tied with Killdeer and Hazen for third place in Region 4. Dickinson Trinity and Beulah are tied for first, each with a 5-1 record, but Trinity holds the tie-breaker because of its 21-0 victory over the Miners last Friday. Killdeer and Hazen will clash tonight in Killdeer, but both have a tie-breaker advantage over Bowman County.
“For us it’s simple … if we win, we’re in the playoffs, and if we lose, it’s the end of the season,” said Bowman County's first-year head coach Todd Frie. “It’s going to be tough on Friday because we’re playing a very good team in Beulah, but the kids are confident that they can get it done. They’re focused and ready to go. They want to keep playing at least another week.”
Bowman County went 4-4 in the regular season and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in a decade in 2016, playing in 9-man Region 5. There were a number of question marks coming into the 2017 season, but Frie said the Bulldogs had a solid nucleus to build around.
“We returned quite a few kids who played last year, and each and every one of them bought into our system,” the Bowman County coach said. “They made a nice adjustment to 11-man football and put themselves in a position to make it the playoffs again. The kids deserve a lot of credit. They put a lot of time and effort into it.”
The Bulldogs opened the 2017 season with a bang, rolling over New Town 66-6. Then came their signature win, a 15-6 decision over Trinity.
“That was a big win for our kids … the kind of win they needed to help them realize that what we’re doing works,” Frie said. “It sent positive vibes through our program. In the eyes of everyone else, we were the underdog in that game, but we believed that we could win. Trinity is a good team, and after beating them we felt we could compete with and beat anyone in our region."
Bowman County, which has lost to Killdeer 24-14 and Hazen 21-19, is powered by a strong running game and a stingy defense.
Alex Madrigal has a team-high 414 yards rushing on 51 carries. Adam Powell and Tristan Peterson have 338 and 211 yards, respectively. The Bulldogs are averaging 203.1 yards rushing per game.
“Our philosophy on offense is ground and pound. We have a big offensive line and good running backs and we’ve made use of that,” Frie said.
Bowman County has also gone to the air 66 times, completing 38 passes for 512 yards. Matthew Osendorf has 19 completions in 35 attempts for 280 yards.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have allowed only 57 points in seven games.
“Defense is our biggest strength. The kids take pride in it … they love playing on that side of the ball,” Frie said. “We like to treat every scoreboard like it's ours ... we don’t want anyone to score on it."
Defensive leaders include Nate Boehm (37 tackles, 6 QB sacks, 6 fumble recoveries), Peterson (35 tackles), Beau Jeffers (31 tackles), Brian Anaya (26 tackles, 4 sacks), and Madrigal (3 interceptions).
Win or lose tonight, Frie said the 2017 season has been a confidence-booster for the program.
“If we lose, 5-3 is still a good record and we still have a lot to be proud of,” he said. “We're a young team and we took some big steps this year. The future is bright. We don’t have a lot of seniors, and our freshman class is very solid.”