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Hillsboro focuses on defense in 9-man championship

Hillsboro vs. Williams County - When: Noon today - TV: KVLY - Where: Alerus Center, Grand Forks Yes, Hillsboro has rushed for more than 5,000 yards this season. Sure, the Burros yards-per-carry average borders on ridiculous at 9.0.

Hillsboro vs. Williams County

- When: Noon today

- TV: KVLY

- Where: Alerus Center, Grand Forks

Yes, Hillsboro has rushed for more than 5,000 yards this season.

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Sure, the Burros yards-per-carry average borders on ridiculous at 9.0. And the gaping holes provided by the offensive line look better suited for Tecmo Bowl than the Dakota Bowl.

All of this is true.

However, when Hillsboro meets top-ranked and undefeated Williams County (a co-op of Tioga and Ray) at noon today in the North Dakota 9-man finals at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, the emphasis will be on the defensive side of the ball. More particularly, the focus will be on pass defense.

"Coming up with defensive stops is going to be key for us," Hillsboro coach Mark Rerick said. "They have an exceptional offense. Pass defense has been where we've struggled. The strength of our team is in the linebackers. We just don't have a true defensive back."

Rerick's concern is largely due to standout Williams County senior quarterback Tyler Lalim. Lalim has accounted for 2,361 total yards, including 1,307 through the air.

The Burros are hoping to put pressure on Lalim every time he drops back to pass. The theory is that forcing Lalim to hurry will lead to incomplete passes and short gains instead of big plays.

"Getting pressure from the defensive line always helps," said Burros senior nose guard Bill Breen, whose team's last state title game appearance was 1996. "We've been working on some pass rush stuff, trying to do as much as we can do."

Hillsboro's best defense could be its ability to work the clock with its running game.

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At no time was that more evident than last week's state semifinal win against Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter.

The Burros ran more than 70 times against the Imperials en route to a 38-6 win.

Hillsboro - which racked up points throughout the regular season with big plays - proved it could use up the clock with a seven-minute drive to open the third quarter.

"We've had a lot more long plays than usual (this season)," said Breen, who also plays on the offensive line. "But against a good team like Napoleon, you are not going to get a lot of long plays. It's a great thing to see that we can have that long drive."

Hillsboro has not won an "official" state title, Rerick said.

The school's championships in 1937 and 1938 came before the North Dakota State High School Activities Association crowned a champion through a playoff system.

Hillsboro's 1937 championship was claimed when it defeated Hettinger 20-0 in a matchup of the last remaining undefeated Class B teams. The game was put together by officials from both schools.

In 1938, statewide media selected four teams - including Hillsboro - as the Class B champions.

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"After we won (in the semifinals), the kids were pretty excited about winning, about having this opportunity," Rerick said. "But I think they also realized it was time to go back to work."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler's blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com

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