SIOUX CITY | No doubt the Minneapolis Warriors have caught the attention of the Sioux City Stampede.
Especially with the fourth quarter the Warriors turned in last Saturday. During Northern Elite Football League semifinal playoff action at Burnsville High School, the defending league champions stretched a narrow 7-6 lead with a 29-point fourth quarter explosion in a 36-7 rout over the St. Paul Pioneers.
The Warriors sport a 7-2 NEFL record (9-2 overall) going into Elite Bowl XI Saturday night at Memorial Field against the Stampede (7-1, 9-1). Minneapolis has won five consecutive games since falling 12-7 to Coach Jason Garnand’s Stampede on June 16.
“My early thoughts about the Minneapolis Warriors is they are the reigning champs,” said Garnand in an office not far from the Memorial Field locker room where the Stampede were celebrating last Saturday’s 34-12 semifinal win over the Fargo Invaders.
“These guys are the champions of the league. And until they get beat, they are going to be the champions. They know what it takes to win a title. They had three losses last year and ended up rolling into the championship game and ended up winning it.”
A year ago, Minneapolis ended St. Paul’s seven-year stronghold on the NEFL title. The Pioneers, 15-14 winners over the Stampede on July 14, had won four consecutive games before falling to the Warriors.
Quarterback Dave Connors passed for 93 yards and guided Minneapolis to a 16-play, 75-yard scoring drive on the game’s initial series against Sioux City. Running back Tyrell Martin rushed for 99 yards and had 37 yards on the opening series against a Sioux City defense that had entered that contest with consecutive shutouts over the Minnesota Vipers and the Hudson Thunderhawks.
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Sioux City’s defense limited Minneapolis to 160 yards the rest of the way, 57 of those yards coming when wide receiver Rasheme Sharpe sailed down the right sideline after initially bobbling a catch when he was met by Stampede defenders. Cornerback Warren Joiner came from behind to knock the ball loose in the redzone and fellow defensive back Robert Lewis recovered the fumble.
Martin was the NEFL’s second-leading rusher this season with 614 yards, 34 yards shy of Fox Valley’s Tyrone Evans. Connors passed for 476 yards and seven touchdowns.
Linebacker Joshua Vaughan led Minneapolis’ defense in the regular season with 55 tackles (11 against Sioux City), nine tackles for loss and added 3.5 quarterback sacks. The defense, which recorded 11 interceptions in the regular season, got two interceptions against Sioux City from defensive back Terrell Deloach.
Garnand said he likes the confidence which Stampede quarterback Dorian Ballentine (1,515 yards passing, 16 TDs) is showing. Over the last two games, Ballentine has guided the NEFL regular-season champs to touchdowns on six of their last seven red zone touchdowns.
One of the highlights of the semifinal win was Ballentine’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Bret Van Muyden (27 catches, 423 yards, 6 TDs). Van Muyden, a former Briar Cliff Charger, is two touchdown catches shy of team leader Josh McDonald (27, 478, 8), who showed a new wrinkle with two runs for 17 yards on jet sweeps.
“Bret Van Muyden has kind of been bottled all season long,” said Garnand. “He’s probably one of the most explosive wide receivers in the league and he’s been bottled up with this run-pass option offense. He’s kind of the back-side read for Dorian. Bret really showcased his ability to play, which we all knew. He just had to get put into position.
“Dorian, coming off the Northland Bulls, where he was 14 of 19 for 200 yards, his confidence (against Fargo) was sky-high. When you have a quarterback like that who has a lot of confidence, that’s really picking up the offense now, he’s a fantastic quarterback in this league.”