The Dawson-Boyd football team breaks its huddle with the word "together," and even after thousands of snaps over the years, it's still clear the Blackjacks aren't just mouthing the words.
The Blackjacks overcame a rash of potential momentum-killing penalties with solid efforts on both sides of the ball and defeated Braham 27-8 in the Class A state quarterfinals on Friday at St. Cloud State's Husky Stadium.
The 11-1 Blackjacks are back in the state semifinals for the third year in a row. They won the 2011 state title and fell in the 2012 semis. D-B plays the winner of today's Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity-Sleepy Eye-St. Mary's game at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Metrodome.
Photo by Tom Larson, West Central Tribune
Dawson-Boyd wideout Michael Lee runs before catching a 37-yard touchdown pass against Braham during an MSHSL Class A State Tournament quarterfinal game Friday at St. Cloud State University.
Behind superb defensive work against Braham quarterback John Larson, it never appeared that Dawson-Boyd lost control of Friday's game. But the Blackjacks' resilience was a good sign, nonetheless.
"Especially the last two games, we've really come together," said D-B quarterback Joey Lee, who threw two scoring passes to Michael Lee. "We're willing to do whatever it takes for each other."
Dawson-Boyd needed a big comeback to defeat Canby in the section semifinals. Sufficiently awakened from slow starts in a few games this season, the Blackjacks then rolled over then-undefeated Wabasso 28-0 in the championship game.
"Not that we have pressure on us, but we'd been expected to be the team coming out of our section," said Blackjacks head coach Cory Larson. "It's not easy being the guy on top and have a target on your back. In the first halves of some games, we played tentative, played not to lose. In the Canby game, we realized if that's the kind of football we're going to play, we're not going to be in the playoffs very long."
Joey Lee capped a first-quarter drive with a one-yard plunge, then hooked up with lanky wide receiver Michael Lee on a 37-yard TD throw in the second quarter to put the Blackjacks up 13-0 at halftime.
Running back Dalton Palmer ran nine yards for a touchdown on D-B's first drive of the second half to make it 19-0, and after Larson scrambled 19 yards for the Bombers' only score with about six minutes to play in the third quarter, Joey Lee lobbed a 10-yard fade pass to Michael Lee for a score early in the fourth quarter that iced the game.
Both of the Lee-to-Lee TDs came on fourth-down plays.
"We kept our energy up the whole game," said Michael Lee, whose interception set up Palmer's third-quarter scoring play. "On the first (touchdown), it was a straight fly because we had that play called before (a penalty) and we thought it would work. On the second (touchdown), I'm pretty tall so that worked out for us, too, I guess."
Dawson-Boyd was hit with nine penalties that often took them out of second-and-short and third-and-short situations.
But the Blackjacks hammered the Bombers with a running attack that rolled up 336 yards. Palmer finished with 205 yards on 17 carries and Mike Anyasike gained 100 yards on 17 runs.
"It's all about intensity," Palmer said. "We've picked it up a ton after that Canby game. Pound the ball and get open. But penalties have killed us the last two weeks. We have to fix that or it could hurt us."
The Dawson-Boyd defense put a major hurt on the Bombers' attack, which was averaging 353 total yards entering the state tournament.
Coming into Friday's game, the Bombers Larson had piled up almost 3,000 yards passing and running and he'd thrown or run for 38 touchdowns.
The Blackjacks held him to 147 total yards and intercepted him twice. The Bombers managed just 204 total yards and just seven first downs.
"We just had to read our keys and sit back on the back side," Palmer said. "We knew he was going to be quick so we had to hang with him."
"We had some mental lapses on offense but we were able to make up for it," Joey Lee said. "Definitely the running game stepped up. It's a credit to our offensive line and our running backs. Both (Palmer and Anyasike) are playing with injuries but both are tough kids and they'll do anything for us."