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Running game the key for Heart River

BELFIELD -- The Velva football team hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown this season. That little fact doesn't give Heart River much hope going into its Class A first-round playoff game against the No. 1-ranked Aggies on Saturday. Yet, the Couga...

Heart River's running backs
Press Photo by Dustin Monke Heart River running backs Cole Hecker, Seth Ewoniuk, Pat Tangen and Dalton O'Brien relax during practice on Tuesday. The Cougars have rushed for nearly 2,000 yards as a team this season through their double-wing formation.

BELFIELD -- The Velva football team hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown this season.

That little fact doesn't give Heart River much hope going into its Class A first-round playoff game against the No. 1-ranked Aggies on Saturday.

Yet, the Cougars believe their offense just might be good enough to allow them to stand a chance.

"We've got our work cut out for us," Heart River head coach Dave Hendrickson said. "But again, going back to the offense, if we can just get a seam, we can get those kids to scoot through there."

The Cougars' double-wing offense has been consistently strong all season, with diminutive sophomore Seth Ewoniuk leading the way.

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Ewoniuk, a 5-foot-8, 125-pound wingback, has rushed for 950 yards and 18 touchdowns on 125 carries -- a 7.2 yards-per-carry average.

The Cougars have rushed for 1,968 yards this season out of the confusing formation built on misdirection, timely blocking and speed.

With an undersized offensive line that would be small at the 9-man level, and tiny running backs with the ability to burst through holes for big gains, Hendrickson said the offense is suited to all of the Cougars' strengths.

"The thing we kind of thrive on is misdirection, getting a couple people going one way and actually having the ball carrier go back against the seam," Hendrickson said.

Velva will certainly know Ewoniuk is coming. He rushed for 367 yards and six touchdowns in a 57-28 win over New Salem-Glen Ullin on Sept. 24, a win that helped push Heart River into the playoffs.

So, mixing it up will be important for the Cougars, who are 5-3 overall and earned Region 4's fourth and final playoff seed.

Senior fullback Pat Tangen has rushed for 494 yards and four touchdowns while wingback Cole Hecker has 284 yards rushing and six touchdowns.

Ewoniuk, who has 21 total touchdowns, said getting the running game going early is important.

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"We're just going to have to block them straight up and go out and get a good push and hopefully our backs will find the hole," Ewoniuk said. "... It's going to be a tough match, but if we play a good four quarters, it's going to be a good game."

Ewoniuk suggested that Heart River may have to go as far as trying to fool the Aggies a few times.

"We're going to have to throw a couple trickery plays in there," he said with a smile.

An important player in the Cougars' lineup -- not to mention someone who'll help them in their ability to run those "trick" plays -- isn't even a sure thing for Saturday's game.

Junior quarterback Jarek Haverluk, a two-year starter, is questionable after being shot in his right arm during an accident on the opening weekend of pheasant hunting season.

Haverluk suffered minor damage to his throwing arm. Even though he was out of pads at Tuesday's practice, he tested his arm by throwing passes and said he hopes to play.

He has thrown for 546 yards and four touchdowns this season, completing 56 percent of his passes.

"I would guess it's probably a 50-50 thing if he's going to play," Hendrickson said.

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If Haverluk can't go, 6-foot-4 sophomore Isaiah Marschner will start. Marschner moved from receiver to quarterback for last Friday's 44-22 loss at Killdeer and threw for 85 yards.

Whoever the Cougars go with, being able to mix up the pass and run will be key in any upset attempt they hope to make.

"We've got to keep them honest," Tangen said. "We can't have them stacking up against the run. They know we're going to run, so we've got to complete some passes and get them loosened up a little bit.

"But the running game is the key. If we can run the ball, we can definitely stick with anybody in the state with the explosive backs that we do have."

Heart River sophomore running back Seth Ewoniuk
Press Photo by Dustin Monke Heart River sophomore running back Seth Ewoniuk runs during practice on Tuesday. Ewoniuk has rushed for 950 yards and 18 touchdowns on 125 carries -- a 7.2 yards-per-carry average.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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