When the Marshall Tigers take the field for their Section 2AAAA semifinal matchup with Glencoe-Silver Lake on Saturday, they will do so with an odd sense of familiarity with their opponents. Odd because Saturday marks the first game between the two schools, and familiar due to both programs' penchant for power football.
"We're a lot alike," Marshall head coach Terry Bahlmann said. "They're a little different formation, but they like to run a lot of the same plays we do."
The stylistic similarities between the third-seeded, seventh-ranked Tigers (9-0 overall) and second-seeded, fourth-ranked Panthers (7-1 overall) have relieved some of the scouting burden for the Tigers coaching staff, but the burden of execution still falls to players.
"Scouting-wise it's fairly easy," Bahlmann said of his team's preparation for Saturday, "but it's going to come down to execution for both sides. They're going to run some dive things at us and some trap things, and we're going to run it back at them. Whoever wins that battle is probably going to control the football game."
On paper, the Tigers have the edge.
Thanks to its bruising offensive line, the Tigers boast a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in fullback Colton Citrowske and halfback Rhett Struve, while quarterback Austin Saugstad is just 65 yards from crossing that threshold as a passer as well.
The triple-threat backfield has combined for 37 touchdowns and led the Tigers to an average of 46.1 points per game, second best in AAAA (trailing top-ranked DeLaSalle at 50.3 ppg).
Defensively, the hard-hitting Tigers have held opponents to 9.8 points per game. Only top-seeded and second-ranked Hutchinson has been more suffocating to opposing offenses this season, allowing 9.3 ppg.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are scoring just over four touchdowns on average (28.9 ppg), while holding opponents to just under three touchdowns (19.8 ppg).
G-SL'S offense is led by quarterback Keaton Anderson. The sophomore signal caller has thrown for over 400 yards with eight touchdowns and rushed for 368 yards and seven more touchdowns in the Panthers' variation of the Wing-T offense.
Punishing fullback Dalton Clouse has used his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame to grind out 636 yards and six scores to lead a stable of backs. Senior Ryan Kuester has nine total touchdowns and 405 total yards, while junior halfback Jake Stuedemann has five scores on 309 yards.
Both teams have faced top 10 competition in 2012, but the Panthers will be Marshall's first ranked opponent higher than AAA. G-SL, on the other hand, has already faced a pair of top-five AAAA foes, losing to Hutchinson 35-13 on Sept. 7 and defeating then-No. 4 Becker 21-9 on Oct. 5.
If the Tigers hold the edge on paper, then the Panthers hold the edge in history. The Panthers have 11 state tournament appearances to Marshall's one, while winning five state titles since 2000 (all of which came in Class AAA). Those 11 state tournament appearances include a run of nine straight from 2002-10. It was familiar Marshall opponent Fairmont who ended the Panthers' streak en route to a second-place finish last season.
Saturday will be G-SL's first Section 2AAAA playoff game. The Panthers filled the void left by four-time defending section champion Mankato West, who jumped up to Class AAAAA over the summer. Certainly the Panthers will be excited for the game, with a potential rematch with Hutchinson on the line.
But, according to Bahlmann, the Tigers will have no problem matching the intensity of their hosts.
"We're excited to play. We were ready to play right after the East game, if we had played a doubleheader that night,"?Bahlmann said. "We want to be excited. It's a fun time of the year. Come out, play your best and have a fun time playing football. These kids love to play football and now you get a chance against one of the most known programs in the state. We go to their place, it's all we can ask for.
"It's going to be a battle up front, and turnovers and mistakes are probably going to decide the football game. It should be a lot of fun and we need a great Marshall crowd there to support us."