No. 1 Hazen nearing clash with No. 2 Killdeer

Hazen has one small order of business to attend to this week.

But Tuesday is when the real fun begins.

The Class A No. 1 Bison (6-0 overall, 4-0 Region 4) are colossal favorites for their road game Friday at Garrison-Max.

Then they get all of four days to prepare for their regular-season finale against No. 2 Killdeer – a matchup that will decide the region champion and playoff seeding.

Hazen coach Rick Philion said the Bison’s focus is centered on Garrison-Max for the time being. But as the defending state champions, they’re well aware of the significance of the 1-2 showdown that awaits next week.

“We’re going to watch and see what happens Friday night first, but as far as winning our region, that first seed is important,” Philion said. “It allows you to stay home as long as you can in the playoffs. That’s one more advantage that you have.”

The Bison, who have won 14 consecutive games dating back to Sept. 14, 2012, returned most of their championship team this year. However, they did have a couple of major holes to fill with the departures of three-time all-state quarterback Stetson Carr and defensive lineman Michael Maas.

Hazen’s linemen bought their skill players time while they settled into new roles, Philion said.

“Our lines have really been our strength this year,” he said. “Right now, they’ve been pretty much the stability and the rock for us as the other kids have grown a little bit.”

Junior Connor Doll filled Carr’s offensive role after starting at receiver during his sophomore campaign. Senior Nate Leintz provides a capable fullback, which makes the Bison’s option attack brutally difficult to defend.

Leintz has carried 42 times for 456 yards and a team-best seven touchdowns, but his ability to keep defenses honest may be even more valuable.

“He played for us last year, but he’s really helped make the offense run this year,” Philion said. “Nate’s brought in a running option as a fullback, which has really opened up a lot of the outside for us.”

As explosive as Hazen’s second-ranked offense is (43.3 points per game), its defense is arguably more impressive.

Six-foot, 205-pound senior linebacker Hunter Fears has 34 tackles and four sacks for the state’s top defense, which allows 7.5 points per game.

The Bison’s statistical output is far better than last season when they scored 36 points and allowed 12.4 points per game. Fears said they’ve been on a mission to prove doubters wrong. They’ve heard too many people tell them they couldn’t duplicate the result.

“Just because we lost a couple good people doesn’t mean anything,” said Fears, a first-team all-state selection last year. “We’ve got other great guys. We didn’t win last year just off those guys that we lost. We won as a team.”

Shutting down Killdeer’s high-powered offense certainly would quiet the critics.

The Cowboys (6-0, 5-0) boast the state’s top scoring offense at 51.3 points per game. Their last win was a 71-12 blowout against Garrison-Max – not uncommon for a team whose average win is by 41.

“What we’re going to see out of Killdeer is a team that looks like they have a ton of speed, a lot of talent and they seem to have a sound defense, also,” Philion said. “They look like the real deal to us.”

Hazen and Killdeer have steamrolled every team they’ve played so far. Neither team’s starters regularly play all four quarters. Fears expects to play a full game Tuesday.

And despite the Bison’s No. 1 ranking, he expects to be the underdog, too.

“Everyone thinks that Killdeer is big and they’re going to stomp us,” Fears said. “It’s a pretty big game to show that we could do it (win state again). A lot of people doubted us this year. A lot of people didn’t think we were going to be close to as good as we were last year. This is just to show everyone that they were wrong.”

Lakers can clinch Class A Region 3 with win

No. 5 Des Lacs-Burlington doesn’t rank in the top five in points scored, points allowed or point differential. And it graduated its lone all-state player last year.

Yet the Lakers (6-0 overall, 5-0 Region 3) remain one of five unbeaten teams in Class A.

With a win Friday at Lewis & Clark-Our Redeemer’s (5-1, 4-1), they can clinch their first region title in school history. The Bombers would have the inside track to the No. 1 playoff seed if they win.

“We have a good football team,” DL-B coach James Johnson said after a 36-0 win over Bottineau last Thursday. “We have a good defense, which we start with, and offensively I think we have a lot of weapons.

“We run the ball fairly well and we have a quarterback that can throw. We have quite a few receivers that can catch it. We can spread it out pretty good.”

If the Lakers lose to L&C-OR, they can still clinch a share of the region title the following week against Rugby.

DL-B was picked third in the Region 3 coaches poll. The Pigskin Preview predicted the Lakers to finish fifth.

The low expectations did little to shake the Lakers’ moxie.

“Our team, we think we can go all the way,” junior running back Brett Schaefer said. “We’re a very confident team. We’re a very good football team.”

9-man Region 3 title on line for TGU

TGU has its last big test of the regular season on Friday: a home game against Divide County (6-1 overall, 6-1 Region 3).

The No. 2 Titans (7-0, 7-0) can secure their second straight 9-man Region 3 title with a victory.

TGU’s last loss came to Divide County in the 2012 state semifinals – a 30-14 setback. The Maroons fell to New Rockford-Sheyenne in the championship.

TGU closes out its regular season next week with a home game against New Town (1-6, 1-6).

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