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The Hall football team has gone into almost every game this season as the underdog but still earned an automatic playoff berth.
The first round of the Class 2A playoffs will put the No. 6-seeded Red Devils in the same position when they travel 167 miles to play the undefeated No. 3-seeded Bismarck-Henning at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“I think the kids have confidence in themselves the way they’ve played the last four and a half games,” Hall coach Randy Tieman said. “At halftime of the Rockridge game, they came out and played a lot better. Since then, we’ve went on a little roll. I believe they’re as confident as they can be right now.”
Hall lost to Rockridge 63-34 in Week 5 to give them a 2-3 record.
The Red Devils went on to win the remaining four games to finish 6-3, including a victory over state-ranked Kewanee in Week 8.
Senior quarterback Taggart Venegas knows how dynamic the Hall offense can be — it averages 171.7 rushing yards and 138.3 passing yards and 29.3 points per game — and hopes it will light the fuse against the Blue Devils.
“We’re definitely going to try to keep them off balance. They’re pretty big, but I think we can use our speed against them and run a lot of different stuff at them,” Venegas said. “Whatever the defense gives us — if they’re playing back, we can run against them, and if they’re playing up, we can throw against them.”
Venegas has 1,365 total yards and 16 touchdowns on the season as he has used his arm and his legs to lead the Red Devils to victories.
Senior Collin Aimone has been a dual threat from the running back and wide receiver positions with 501 total yards and nine touchdowns.
The rest of the rushing load has been handled by seniors Jake Byczynski and Aaron Kerr, who have 352 yards for three touchdowns and 320 yards for four touchdowns, respectively.
Bismarck-Henning is ranked No. 7 in the last Associated Press Poll after going 9-0 to win the Vermilion Valley Conference.
The Blue Devils are in the playoffs for the fifth straight year and are looking to advance to the second round for a third consecutive season.
Bismarck-Henning lost to DuQuoin 7-6 in the second round to end last year’s campaign and were defeated by a hail marry pass against Marshall the year before.
“We’re going to run. We know what we are and what we are not. A 9-0 record looks good, but we understand we’re one of the smaller schools in 2A,” Bismarck-Henning coach Mark Dodd said. “Our best wins are against 1A schools. We just understand that the level of competition is going to be very high and we have to prepare for that.
“We have had a couple of heartbreakers the last couple of years, but this team has really been a surprise all year. They weren’t expected to win the conference, they weren’t expected to go 9-0 and the fact we are where we are is a credit to the quality of kids we have. It’s not that we don’t have talent, this season has just been a shock.”
Dodd’s team averages 342.8 yards rushing and 55.2 yards passing to score 34.9 points per contest.
The B-H ground game is led by senior Patrick Ganley, who has rushed 138 times for 1,241 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also is the second leading receiver with 121 yards and two touchdowns.
Fullback Mo Abbed has carried the ball for 708 yards and eight touchdowns, while junior running back Donnie Powell has 514 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
Tieman and Hall are preparing for the Wing-T offense Ganley and his associates operate.
The Three Rivers Conference South doesn’t feature many teams with this style of offense, which means the team will see some new things during Week 10.
“We have to play our assignments like we have in the second half of the season,” Tieman said. “We can’t go chasing. We have to stay with our assignments and get our jobs done.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6695, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.
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