By Scott Schlaufman
Having racked up more than 2,300 yards on the ground this year, the Valley City High School football team knows the importance of stopping the run.
But when the Hi-Liners lost 20-12 to Grafton in their regular season finale Oct. 16, it all came down to an inability to stop Christian Lunde and the rest of the Spoilers' ground game.
"They ran the ball on us more than we would have liked and you've got to be able to stop it," Valley City coach Scott Roehrich said. "In high school football, if you can't stop the run, you're dead, so we've got to make sure we're doing a better job stopping the run."
The teams meet again in the state semifinals at 2 p.m. Saturday in Grafton.
They're among three remaining teams from the AA East Division in the final four spots in the tournament. Shanley, the East's top seed, plays Beulah at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Fargo.
For the Hi-Liners, the fourth seed in the East, the second game against the second-seeded Spoilers is one of the many second chances.
Many of the seniors on the team were also on the sideline for the Hi-Liners' 2010 semifinal appearance, when the team lost 31-6 to Shanley, who won the state championship that year.
"A lot of these kids that are seniors were playing, so they remember what it was like to be there," Roehrich said. "Of course, they didn't play a lot then, but they have been part of the experience before."
Though there is a glimmer of semifinal experience, Roehrich expects the team's biggest asset to be the experience the seniors have gained this year.
He counted last week's 24-14 win over Bishop Ryan, the top seed in the West, as a good lesson. The Hi-Liners held a two-point lead nearly the entire second half, clinching the win with a touchdown and two-point conversion with 2:11 left.
"Our kids pulled out a close game last week, which is something we've talked about, is being able to hang in there and pull out a close game," Roehrich said. "Having done that, I hope that gives us enough confidence to know that we can play in a close game and we can finish and win the game too."
Another close match is what he's expecting.
The first time the teams played, Valley City never held the lead, but worked back from deficits of 6-0 and 12-6, tying it in the fourth quarter before allowing the game-deciding touchdown.
Roehrich said one of the main keys will be containing quarterback Christian Lunde and finishing open field tackles when he gets loose.
"He's a shifty guy," Roehrich said. "He's fast, he runs hard, so we can't let him break tackles. We've got to make tackles."
The Hi-Liners will match it with the same run game they've used all year, giving the ball to backs Anthony Olstad and Shane Undem, with a secondary set of backs, such as Dustin Lindgren and Brandon Breckheimer ready to take carries as well.
Though the Hi-Liners seemingly don't have as much playoff experience as other teams left in the tournament, it's not a concern for Roehrich, who last took a team to the state championship in 2008.
"These guys have been around the block," he said. "You can say we haven't been here before, but I still look at all the games these kids have played as seniors. They've played a lot of football games. To me, that experience is more important."