Pine River-Backus football coach Tom Demars hesitated for a moment, but finally admitted that he’s surprised by the Tigers’ unbeaten record in the first five games.
“I didn’t expect to be 5-0,” he admitted. “I wasn’t sure what to expect before the season, but I thought we could be pretty good if everything came together.”
One of the biggest question marks in the preseason has been a key to success for the Tigers.
“Our offensive line has come together as a solid unit,” Demars said. “They are a large part of our success. Weston Smith, the anchor of our line, and Tony Brunhuber are the only other returning (senior) linemen.”
A key non-letterwinner is junior center Sam Pelke, a transfer from Eden Valley-Watkins High School.
“Sam is 230 pounds and has been a nice addition,” Demars said. “Our whole line has played well. It’s one of the best (offensive lines) we’ve had in a few years.”
The talented linemen have helped the Tigers outscore the competition 202-43. PR-B also leads the North Star Conference East standings with a 5-0 mark.
“It has been a while, but we had some high-scoring teams about 10 or 12 years ago,” Demars said. “I believe we’ve scored first in every game and have taken advantage of a lot of turnovers to build first-half leads.”
Junior running back Henry Kreklau leads PR-B with eight touchdowns and 405 rushing yards while senior Jared Adkins has scored five times with 282 yards rushing, and senior Travon Pederson has four touchdowns and 170 yards.
“It hasn’t been one person, but we’ve had a different guy leading our team in every game,” Demars said. “Our offensive leader depends on our opponent, and what we’re able to do against them. We have been able to run the ball in the past few weeks.”
PR-B has 1,075 yards rushing and 20 total touchdowns. The Tigers have also showed an ability to pass as sophomore quarterback Zach Struss has completed 31 of 57 passes for 410 yards and six scores, including five TD receptions by senior Brandon Mager.
The Tigers’ defense has also played well as Adkins leads with 41 total tackles while Jace Loge has 34, Nick Gravdahl 24, and Triston Rubner and Shane Fleming each with 21.
“We’ve had 14 quarterback sacks, 12 interceptions and six fumble recoveries,” Demars said. “We’ve had a total of 18 turnovers, and we’ve only turned the ball over three or four times.”
The Tigers will need to continue playing well this Friday, Oct. 4, when PR-B hosts a talented Frazee team.
“(Frazee) has some big, physical kids,” Demars said of the Hornets, who are 3-2 overall. “It will be one of our toughest games of the year. Last year, we were 4-0 and feeling pretty good when we went to Frazee, but they physically dominated us and won.”
Frazee is a Class AA team, and beating the Hornets would improve the Tigers’ position in the Section 6A playoff seedings.
Large crowd in PL
Except for losing a key football matchup against Perham 19-6 on Friday, Sept. 27, Pequot Lakes High School students and fans enjoyed an admirable homecoming week.
The football game against the Yellowjackets, along with a powderpuff football game that followed, attracted a large crowd to the newly remodeled facility.
“I’m pleased with the turnout,” Marc Helmrichs, Pequot Lakes’ activities director, said of the homecoming game. “Typically, our football games with Perham have been well attended. But we had a large crowd. Our student council did a great job with homecoming.”
The main bleachers were full of fans while one end zone featured the pep band and the other end zone had fans seated along the inside of the fence. There were also dozens of fans watching from the patio area near the concession stand.
“I think the patio area is a great place to hang out, and a nice spot to enjoy the game,” Helmrichs said. “I like having the pep band in end zone for more of a focal point (compared to the main bleachers). It also frees up seating in the bleachers. We’ve opened up both ends of the field beyond the end zones. We just want to keep fans off the new running track to preserve its life.”
Helmrichs said a large crowd also attended the Sept. 13 home opener against East Grand Forks. That was the first home football game in two years for the Patriots as the field was remodeled and moved slightly to the west for the new gymnasium.
“That was a chance for fans to see the new football field and also tour the new gymnasium,” Helmrichs said. “It’s nice to have more space with our new facilities.”
The final step of the school remodeling project will be an extension to the main football bleachers next season. Currently, the main bleaches can hold up to 496 people.
Pete Mohs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook.