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Jones helps spark Verndale to Minnesota 9-man section championship

FARGO-Verndale quarterback Mack Jones played on an injured ankle Friday afternoon at the Fargodome, but that didn't stop the senior from being productive.Jones passed for two touchdowns and rushed for two more, leading the Pirates to a 26-16 vict...

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Verndale quarterback Mack Jones throws a pass in the Minnesota 9-man, Section 4 football championship game Friday at the Fargodome. Emily Myrin / Forum News Service

FARGO-Verndale quarterback Mack Jones played on an injured ankle Friday afternoon at the Fargodome, but that didn't stop the senior from being productive.

Jones passed for two touchdowns and rushed for two more, leading the Pirates to a 26-16 victory against Brandon-Evansville for the Minnesota 9-man, Section 4 football championship at Gate City Bank Field.

"He hurt it a couple weeks ago and then last week he tweaked it again," Verndale head coach Michael Mahlen said. "He just had to play with some pain, which he did."

The Pirates (11-0) won their first section championship since 2009. They had lost in the section title game three times since that 2009 crown before Friday's victory.

"It was huge. It's been our goal since last year for our seniors because we had a heartbreaking loss," Jones said of losing to Fergus Falls Hillcrest in last year's section championship game. "It was motivation because we didn't want to come up short again."

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Jones completed 9 of 13 passes for 154 yards against the Chargers. He also rushed for 32 yards on 10 attempts. Jones didn't play defense and was limited in the running game due to his right ankle, which has a hairline fracture. He said he "couldn't really run" until Friday.

Jones threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to senior Luke Weniger that gave the Pirates an 8-0 lead with 3 minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Jones added a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and a 5-yard scoring burst early in the fourth to give Verndale a 20-0 lead. Jones capped his day with a 33-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Craig Orlando. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Orland caught the ball near the sideline and ran over a defender before rumbling into the end zone. Orlando, who plays on the offensive line, had five catches for 76 yards and broke numerous tackles on the way to gaining that yardage.

Orlando's touchdown catch gave Verndale a 26-0 lead 7:29 remaining in the fourth quarter.

"I call him John Mackey," said Mahlen, referring to the former Colts great who played tight end. "Nobody knows who John Mackey is (anymore)."

Jones likes watching Orlando do damage after the catch.

"It's insane," Jones said. "I feel like he should be on SportsCenter."

Verndale senior running back Josh Bounds rushed for 89 yards on 22 attempts to lead the Pirates. Weniger added 80 yards on the ground on 12 carries. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Weniger also caught two passes for 61 yards.

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"Our kids were really ready to play," Mahlen said.

Chargers senior running back Taylor Bitzan rushed for a game-high 112 yards on 23 carries. He scored on a 10-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to break the shutout.

BE 0 0 0 16--16

VHS 8 6 0 12--26

VHS--L. Weniger 22 pass from Jones (J. Weniger)

VHS--Jones 4 run (pass failed)

VHS--Jones 5 run (run failed)

VHS--Orlando 33 pass from Jones (pass failed)

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BE--Bitzan 10 run (Hintermeister run)

BE--Riedel 67 run (Perleberg pass from Reiland)

Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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