Prep football playoffs: Unbeaten Hermantown has major hurdle

Daryl Illikainen has been a part of several special high school football teams at Hermantown, dating from his playing days on the 1981 state runners-up to coaching undefeated section finalists in 1997 and '98 and state tournament entrants in 2002-03.

Hermantown football
Hermantown's Corey Anderson is a big reason why the Hawks are undefeated heading into the Section 7AAAA football playoffs. Despite an undefeated record, Hermantown isn't the top seed in the section. They're second behind Bemidji, also 8-0. (2011 file / News Tribune)

Daryl Illikainen has been a part of several special high school football teams at Hermantown, dating from his playing days on the 1981 state runners-up to coaching undefeated section finalists in 1997 and '98 and state tournament entrants in 2002-03.

Will this year's team join that list?

If so, the Hawks will have earned it. Despite an unbeaten regular season, Hermantown (8-0) might be an underdog against both potential Section 7AAAA playoff opponents. The Hawks received the No. 2 seed behind third-ranked Bemidji (8-0) and, after a first-round bye tonight, likely will face a tough Detroit Lakes team in Saturday's 6 p.m. semifinals.

Hermantown fell 34-6 to Bemidji in last season's semifinal round.

"Last year we reached the semifinals, and that team was better at the end of the season," Illikainen said. "This team cer-tainly has the potential.


It's been a great season, but we'd like to take that next step and get to the section final. When you get to the section final, you never know what can happen."

What makes Illikainen confident in his team's ability is its penchant for not committing turnovers or penalties. That partially stems from having experienced running backs Jeremy Peterson and Corey Anderson back in the fold.

"When you have the starting backfield back, that really helps," Illikainen said. "Peterson and Anderson understand what has to happen as far as routes and blocking and picking up blitzers. And with (quarterback Kevin) Folman being in basketball and baseball, he's added an element (of athleticism). And our line understood what had to be done."

Section 8AAAAA

East ready for rematch

Against Moorhead

Duluth East coach Joe Hietala recalls how poor the weather was last year when his team traveled to Moorhead for a Section 8AAAAA quarterfinal.

"Last year when we went out there, it was the worst football weather that I had ever seen in my entire coaching career," he said of the snow and wind that greeted the team.


The Greyhounds didn't arrive home until 6 a.m. the next day, giving players plenty of time to mull over their 52-0 defeat.

"A lot of our guys experienced that -- we got it taken to us pretty good," Hietala said. "But it's a night and day difference this year from last year. We figured out how to win some football games and have a lot of experience back. We're definitely hoping for a better outcome in Moorhead."

East went 3-5 in the regular season and is seeded fifth. Taking advantage of the zero-week option, the Greyhounds' regular-season finale was Oct. 14 against Minnetonka. That game left several players in need of time off.

"Minnetonka was a physical team and banged us up," Hietala said of the 42-7 defeat. "To have that extra time to rest up and get healthy going into the playoffs was a huge bonus."

Section 7AAA

Proctor hopes comebacks spur team on in playoffs

Proctor coach Derek Parendo learned a lot about his team late in a game against Cloquet on Oct. 7.

The Rails trailed entering the fourth quarter before scoring two touchdowns to pull out a 28-23 victory.


"When we were behind in the Cloquet game, the kids started to get worried," Parendo said. "I said, 'This is why you play football; this is the fun part.' The kids responded to that and came back.

"As we move through the playoffs, you're going to run into good teams and adversity. Hopefully by facing adversity and coming back from deficits, it will let these kids know that we can come back in the fourth quarter against anyone."

Proctor (5-3) may need to heed that advice right away as the Rails host a Mora team tonight that blanked Cloquet 20-0 to begin the season.

"We don't have a powerhouse in our section as we have in years past," Parendo said. "I truly think anyone in our section, one through eight, could win this thing."

That includes not only top-seeded Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin (6-2) and No. 2 Pine City (7-1), but also the winner of tonight's game between Esko and Virginia.

It also includes Proctor, which last won the section in 2008 in Parendo's first season as head coach after the death of Dave Hylla. The Rails rebounded from an 0-2 start to win five of their last six, including another come-from-behind triumph against Virginia to close the regular season.

"We're a much different team than we were at the beginning of the year," Parendo said. "We figured we'd be one of those teams that learns every week, and that's what our guys are doing. With that in mind, hopefully we're hitting our stride at the right time."

The Rails replaced Tyler Schubert with Kaz Anderson at quarterback, and Anderson sparked the come-from-behind victories as well as cut down interceptions from seven to two.


"The quarterback switch was a big change for us, and we also changed blocking schemes this year," Parendo said. "It took our guys a couple weeks into the season to fully understand how it works between the running backs and the linemen. About week three, it all came together."

What To Read Next
Get Local