Quarterback clash

When Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn hosts No. 2 TGU on Friday night in Westhope, fans will be treated to two contests.

The main event pits the new 9-man Region 3 foes against each other for the first time since 2010. The other matchup is just as appealing — a game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better between opposing dual-threat quarterbacks Hunter Braaten and Eli Luna.

W-N-G’s Braaten and TGU’s Luna each garnered first-team all-state honors last year — the former in Class A, the latter in 9-man. The standout signal-callers play summer basketball together. They’re friends, but fierce competitors.

With W-N-G at 4-1 and TGU unblemished at 5-0, the stakes are even higher for the two quarterbacks’ clash.

“That’s one of the big parts of it,” Braaten said of playing for bragging rights. “That’s what makes it fun.”

The pair posted similar stats last season and have comparable skill sets.

Braaten, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior, rushed for 1,132 yards and 18 touchdowns, and completed 90 of 183 passes for 1,235 yards and 11 scores a year ago. He had a team-best 188 tackles and intercepted five balls, too. The Sioux fell to Hazen in the Class A state championship before dropping down to 9-man this year.

“He’s a really good athlete,” Luna said. “I watched him last year at the state championship and he’s really fun to watch.

“He’s going to be a really tough guy to stop. He can do it all, and on both sides of the ball. He can tackle and he can read the offense well.”

Luna, a 5-8, 150-pound junior, is a bit shorter and a bit quicker. He was 70-of-129 passing for 1,073 yards and 16 scoring strikes in 2012. He also rushed for 1,043 yards and 15 TDs, made 43 tackles and picked off six throws. The Titans were ousted by 9-man runner-up Divide County in the state semifinals.

“He’s just a quick quarterback that likes to scramble,” Braaten said. “He can throw a good football, too. Mainly it’s his running ability that needs to be stopped.”

Braaten and Luna have their teams off to impressive starts in 2013.

W-N-G, which has allowed 20 points combined in its four wins, spanked Dunseith 50-14 last Friday to rebound from a setback to Divide County.

W-N-G coach Tom Nesvold said Braaten’s lower output this year (331 yards passing, 371 rushing) is the result of limited playing time during the Sioux’s three lopsided wins and one forfeit victory.

“He’s just been great,” Nesvold said. “It’s tough to do too much when you get into a blowout game. His stats aren’t down. Defensively, he’ll still make 10 to 12 tackles, and then he’ll rush for 100 and throw for 100.”

The Sioux depend on senior tight end Ethan Miller and sophomore running back Chase Conway to take pressure off Braaten.

TGU coach Scott Thorson plans to key in on Braaten, just as Divide County did two weeks ago.

“(Braaten) is our main focus right now,” Thorson said. “We’re going to have to try to have somebody else beat us.”

The Titans, third in the state in scoring at 47.2 points per game, knocked off then-No. 4 St. John 23-18 on Friday with a late touchdown.

Luna found junior tight end Hunter Schell for a 9-yard strike with 1 minute, 46 seconds remaining to sink the Woodchucks.

“Kind of one of those games where whoever had the ball last was gonna win,” Thorson said.

TGU senior running back Kendal Green has carried for 369 yards behind a young line anchored by all-state senior Luke Bacon (6-5, 250). Luna’s favorite target, junior tight end Colter Thorp, has 12 receptions for 349 yards.

Luna has passed for 894 yards and 13 touchdowns, and amassed 235 rushing yards and seven scores. Nesvold said Luna’s totals are a testament to his teammates.

“You can’t just stop Eli Luna,” he said. “You have to try to stop their other guys and I think that frees him up.”

W-N-G and TGU match up well strategically.

Both spread the ball out, but can play power football when called for. Both put out 3-4 fronts defensively. And both happen to have first-rate quarterbacks.

“There will be a great crowd there,” Nesvold said. “We want to put on a good show.”

Braaten and Luna just might steal the show.

Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.