Titans aim to finish year on high note heading into playoffs
Prior to last season's playoff game at Fargo Shanley, Alex Knopik recalls feeling "sick to my stomach." Knopik missed most of his junior season at Dickinson Trinity recovering from a torn tendon in his left index finger, but he was told he'd get ...
Prior to last season's playoff game at Fargo Shanley, Alex Knopik recalls feeling "sick to my stomach."
Knopik missed most of his junior season at Dickinson Trinity recovering from a torn tendon in his left index finger, but he was told he'd get a great deal of playing time against the Deacons.
"Being out for six weeks and not getting any reps on varsity, that made me think a lot," said Knopik, now a senior. "I had a lot of butterflies."
He's been healthy all season for the Titans in 2016, and Knopik's happy to have another shot at the playoffs after last Thursday's win at Watford City secured the team's second consecutive berth. Trinity (5-3, 4-2 West Region) finishes the regular season at 6 p.m. Tuesday against Stanley-Powers Lake (2-6, 2-4) at the Biesiot Activities Center.
"I'm a lot more confident now. If you don't have that many reps, you come back and you're nervous, and you're not really aware of what's going on," Knopik said. "This year, I'm aware of what's going on, and I have the right mindset."
Head coach John Odermann can see that as well; he's noticed the effect on the game and on the team when Knopik is in at right tackle, nose tackle or outside linebacker.
"He's kind of quiet, but when he's out on the football field, he's a vocal leader, and he lets all his teammates know that he believes in them and he has their back," Odermann said. "He's the guy that leads prayer before and after practice, he does a lot of leadership for us that's behind the scenes and maybe underappreciated. He holds himself to a really high standard, and when his teammates see that, I think it's a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats situation.
"He's been a consistent performer for us on both sides of the ball."
If Odermann ever needed his players to rise to the occasion, today would be a good day to start.
The Titans defeated the Blue Jays 37-24 in the finale last season; it was a win, but Odermann said the team didn't play its best football heading into the playoffs.
With the game on a short week at home this year, that's exactly the situation he wants the team to avoid.
"We had a scare last season where we were in the playoffs, it was a sure thing, and we sat back on our heels and didn't play as well as we could have, and I think that reflected in that first round playoff game against Shanley," Odermann said. "When you back into the playoffs and kill your own momentum by playing really poorly the week before, it's tough to get back into that downhill momentum.
"We've been preaching to the kids that we have to be playing our best football right now, and we can't afford to take a step back."
For the team's 10 seniors, that message seems to have sunk in.
"We just need to set the tone. It all starts now, with how we practice and how we prepare," senior lineman Alex Scherr said at Monday's practice. "My freshman year, we went 0-9 and didn't make the playoffs. My sophomore year we didn't make the playoffs, and I saw how heartbreaking it was. Ever since then, I never wanted to go through that again."
And for his final two seasons, he hasn't had to. But now it becomes a matter of the team playing together, giving the underclassmen valuable playoff experience and allowing the seniors to extend their careers.
"We're ready to go win another game, and whoever comes at us, we're just ready," Knopik said.
The playoff teams for the West Region in Class 2A are locked in, but their positioning is not.
Bismarck St. Mary's is assured the No. 1 seed and will host Central Cass, the East's No. 4, on Oct. 29.
Dickinson Trinity can finish as high as the No. 2 seed if it beats Stanley-Powers Lake and Beulah loses to Watford City by 14 or more points on Wednesday. Trinity would get a home playoff game in this scenario and would face Kindred for a second time this season.
The Titans will be the No. 3 seed if Beulah tops Watford City or loses to the Wolves by 13 or fewer points. Trinity would play on the road to start the playoffs, and would face the East No. 2 seed - the loser of this Saturday's matchup of Hillsboro-Central Valley at Shanley.
Trinity would be the No. 4 seed if it loses to Stanley-Powers Lake and Watford City beats Beulah. In that case, Trinity would face the winner of HC-V and Shanley on the road.