Clash of the HOL elite
There are many ways to count how attractive Friday's battle of the classes will be, when the Class 4A No. 4 ranked Detroit Lakes football team invades the Class 3A No. 2 ranked Perham.
The most important outcome will crown the North Heart O'Lakes Conference champion, as both teams entered the seventh week of the season at 6-0.
Second, the game is the second one in an already blossoming rivalry, which was kicked off last year in grand style.
But the Northern HOL crown isn't the only "trophy" up for grabs, with the newly-constructed "Pigskin Paddle" on the line.
The new trophy will be the DL-Perham's version of "Floyd of Rosedale" or the "Little Brown Jug" the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers play for annually against Iowa and Michigan.
"This game is mostly about pride, wrapped around a new tradition of a great Hwy 10 rivalry starting last year with our first game played at the varsity football level since the early 80s," Perham Head Coach Mike Jordahl said. "Both teams are well disciplined which will provide for an outstanding competition."
And another number can be injected into Friday's game -- five -- as in how many touchdowns senior Perham quarterback Jordan Hein had against the Lakers last year in the Yellowjackets' 35-28 win on Mollberg Field.
Overall, it's a big game.
"This is an important game in the conference, no doubt," said DL head coach Flint Motschenbacher.
"But our focus will not be on Perham, it will be on what we can control. Our ultimate goal is to be a good football team by the time the playoffs roll around."
The game also has some implications on DL's Section 8-4A rank, which as of now, is No. 1.
Fergus Falls is nipping at DL's heels for the top seed, with the Lakers leading by 2.3 points in the QRF ratings.
The Otters have one loss on the season and play more 4A schools, compared to DL's 3A-laden schedule.
But the Lakers have a solid handle on at least a top two seed, which is crucial, since both will gain a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
The Yellowjackets are coming off a narrow 20-19 win in Thief River Falls, as Hein directed a late-game drive, scoring the tying touchdown with under two minutes remaining.
Kicker Nick Bahls eventually booted the go-ahead point, thus preserving Perham's perfect season.
"They are certainly a very good team," Motschenbacher said. "They found a way to win the game and that's what good teams do."
Hein is the stick which stirs the drink for the Yellowjackets. He has rushed for 812 yards on 117 carries for a 6.9 ypc average.
He has also thrown for 604 yards and six touchdowns, while completing 54.1 percent of his passes.
The offense runs through him, as well the defense, in which he makes some big plays from his secondary position.
That was no more evident than in last year's thriller in DL, where Hein scored five touchdowns, including four rushing scores and a tide-turning 94-yard fumble return, after he stripped Laker running back Jarret Nosal on the Perham six yard line and went untouched to score.
DL had two turnovers in the Perham red zone, which played a very key part in the loss.
The Lakers are not missing a big playmaker, though, as junior quarterback Michael Herzog has stormed on the scene with his physical style of rushing.
Herzog has rushed for a team-high 677 yards on 137 carries (4.9 ypc), while scoring 13 rushing touchdowns.
He has also shown he can lead a drive down the field through the air, by passing for 509 yards and six touchdowns.
"We do expect to see some impressive play out of the two premier quarterbacks, no doubt," Jordahl said. "That being said, we plan to and feel DL will plan to use all of our resources on the field. Both teams have several skilled players that can be dangerous when given the opportunity."
Nosal also has picked up some tough yardage on the ground, as he has 398 yards on 78 carries.
"We are trying to get Jarret, Stephen Erb and Casey Paskey more involved in the rushing game, because they are all good athletes," Motschenbacher added.
In a game against two hot teams, intangibles such as turnovers and special teams will be key factors.
The Lakers have excelled in both areas, with defensive touchdowns in three straight games, while limiting their opponents to just 217 yards of total offense per game.
The Laker defense has also been stubborn in allowing opponents across the pylons, by allowing just 42 points on the season.
Park Rapids was the first team all season to score multiple touchdowns in the same game against DL.
"We are just going to need a very solid game to beat them," Motschenbacher said.
"This will be a springboard for both teams going into the playoffs," said Jordahl. "When the level of competition is high, it prepares us greatly for a great finish in the regular season next week and well into the playoffs."