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Jeff Ferguson, head coach and defensive coordinator of the Totino-Grace football team, sounded somewhere between weary and excited Sunday while discussing the game plan.
The top-ranked Eagles (11-0), winners of six state titles since 2003, play Bemidji (9-3) in the Class 5A semifinals at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Metrodome. These Lumberjacks are more than just OK, and their unusual style of offense forced Ferguson back to the drawing board.
But it's a familiar starting point for one of the state's sharpest defensive minds. His units walk the line as well as any when it comes to tweaking base schemes to limit opponents' strengths.
"These days you can't just call a defense and play it because you can't dictate how the other team will line up," Ferguson said. "Each week we like to have a little different plan for other teams while focusing on ourselves. You don't want to get too lost in what other teams are doing."
Totino-Grace scrapped its defense and then blanked Elk River's sleight-of-hand rushing attack in a 35-0 rout. The Eagles later held Osseo's Bridgeport Tusler, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, to zero yards on 13 carries.
Tough as the Eagles can be against the run, Ferguson and members of his staff scouted Bemidji last week in St. Cloud and came away impressed.
"They run this spread, shotgun, pistol offense," he said. "It's fun. We haven't seen anything like it."
Ferguson called Bemidji's offensive line "the biggest we have faced this season." The group paved the way for Brady Schmidt to run 19 times for 320 yards and touchdowns dashes of 76, 56 and 48 yards.
"They have a swagger to them," Ferguson said of last season's runner-up in Class 4A. "I'm sure they are coming in to win the game."
They will face an Eagles team that Ferguson said "played the best we've played all year" in a 42-14 quarterfinal dismantling of Apple Valley last week.
The starting defense allowed just one touchdown, created turnovers and "made a couple stands in our zone," Ferguson said. Players such as defensive back Charlie Miller, linebacker Kurt Mattox and nose tackle Joey Schiller were their usual disruptive selves.
Miller is back to full strength. Schiller, Ferguson said, "improves each week and plays with such a good motor." Mattox is on pace to set a program record for most defensive "points" in a season, a formula based on coaches' film review.
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574