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Kudrna standing tall in pocket

Press Photo by Meaghan MacDonald Heart River senior quarterback Tyson Kudrna, left, hands the ball off to Clayton Tangen during a Class 1A, Region 4 game against Killdeer on Sept. 6 in Belfield. The Cougars travel to Lewis and Clark-Our Redeemer's for the first round of the playoffs.

Heart River senior quarterback Tyson Kudrna's main job is simple -- don't fumble the football.

The Heart River football team runs the Wing-T offense, which includes misdirection and fakes. The less often Kudrna fumbles, the more often the Cougars are successful. It's as simple as that.

"All I need to do is get the ball to them," Kudrna said with a laugh.

During Kudrna's two years as the starting quarterback, he has seen two very different types of teams.

Last year, Heart River handed the ball off to Seth Ewoniuk and Cole Hecker. The duo combined for more than 2,400 yards and 35 touchdowns.

This year was a little different story. The running backs were new and Kudrna said it took a little time for the players to adjust to the varsity level. The runners Kudrna has been handing off to this year are juniors Clayton Tangen and Cade Shypkoski, and sophomores Seth Keator and Kenneth Huffstutler.

"Those guys last year were really good and the young guys this year have stepped up a lot," he said. "It's a lot on them, because we don't pass the ball a lot, but our backs get it done."

After dropping their first two games of the season, the Cougars responded by winning five of the next six games. Heart River finished the regular season with a 5-3 record and has a Class 1A first-round playoff game against Lewis and Clark-Our Redeemer's at 2 p.m. Saturday in Berthold.

"I'm glad that we made the playoffs because that was one of our goals at the beginning of the season," Heart River first-year head coach Mike Williams said. "Lewis and Clark are kind of like us. They are a physical team. They run the football and they've got a real good defense. They are kind of identical to us."

Clayton Tangen, a junior running back, said there are a few people who doubted the team and that it's great to be back into the playoffs after replacing so much talent.

"We were all hearing that this year wasn't going to be a very good year, especially after the first two games," he said. "We really picked it up in practice and we kept working hard."

With Kudrna's experience, Tangen said it's comforting to know his quarterback knows the intricacies of every play the Cougars' offense runs.

"He really knows what he's doing and he knows all the plays," Tangen said. "There will be times where I might forget a play real quick and he knows it right away. He just makes sure everybody knows what they are doing in the huddle."

Kudrna helped Heart River last year's playoff run, which ended against eventual state champions and Region 4 rivals Hazen.

With multiple years of playoff experience, Kudrna is just looking one game at a time.

"A lot of people didn't think that we were going to make it this year and it felt really good to prove them wrong," Kudrna said with a smile. "Coach always says take it one week at a time and that's what we are trying to do. We aren't looking ahead too far."