College football playoffs underwayThe Thunder, which finished in second place in the MCAC’s North Division with a 3-1 record, will host Vermilion (3-5, 2-2 North Division) at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth at 2 p.m. Sunday.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College football team is hosting a playoff game this Sunday — at the third “home field” it has used this season.
The Thunder, which finished in second place in the MCAC’s North Division with a 3-1 record, will host Vermilion (3-5, 2-2 North Division) at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“We are looking forward to playing Vermilion again,” Thunder Coach Keith Turner said. “But we couldn’t get an officiating crew on Saturday with all the high school playoff games going, so we will play Sunday instead.”
The Thunder beat Vermilion 34-18 last Friday in Barnum and Turner is optimistic about this weekend’s game as a result.
“I look at it as if we don’t make mistakes and play sound football, we should beat them again,” Turner said. “Even Rochester can be beaten and they lost last week (32-24 to Minnesota West), so they might have a little doubt in their mind.”
For the second straight year, the Thunder boasted the division’s leading rusher. Ryan Brown rushed for 709 yards on 151 carries, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and scoring seven touchdowns.
Frederick Martin was the division’s fifth leading receiver and De’Angelo Dolphis was the team’s leading tackler, finishing fourth in the division with 43 solo tackles and 17 assists in only six games.
Despite a 3-5 overall record and a bit of an up-and-down season, Turner believes in his players.
“We’ve been telling them from the beginning of the year that when they start to have success, they can be back (playing playoff games) in two weeks (in the state title game),” he said. “We haven’t had kids running out and quitting, and they keep coming back and working.”
Turner said that while the process of maturation has been slow, it has been steady.
“We have such a young group and right now it’s like they are ready to roll into their second year,” Turner said. “They have figured it out; they understand that you’ll make mistakes and bounce back from it. Sometimes it takes longer than four or five plays and they realize that too.”
Turner says the rematch with Vermilion comes at a good time.
“It was good to play them last,” Turner said. “The week before us, they lost 21-13 to Central Lakes, which was No.12 in the country at the time, and had the lead until the end of the game. So they can play, and it was good for us to play them and beat them. Now we get to try again.”
Turner also has his sights set squarely on Rochester should things go well against Vermilion.
“We played them very well the first time we played them,” he said. “We were down 9-0 at half and couldn’t come back from turnovers in the third and fourth quarter. But we played them tough.”
The key to post-season success lies not only with the offense and defense but also with special teams.
“We have to play well there,” Turner said. “We have to catch punts and we have to do a good job punting the ball and being consistent.”
Optimistically, Turner has his team’s sights set high.
“We want to be the first team to play in the state championship at 5-5,” he said.