MOUNTAIN IRON — The Mountain Iron-Buhl football team has been here before but they know they can take things further.
Back in the state tournament for the second year in a row, the Rangers will open play on Friday in Duluth against Section 5 champion South Ridge. Getting the section title win over Silver Bay was nice, but the Rangers got right back to business on Monday according to head coach Dan Zubich.
“They were happy,” Zubich said. “But they came back ready to work. They’re not still celebrating. They have their minds focused on South Ridge.”
For many teams, just getting to state is monumental. For MI-B, they know they can take things even farther after making it to the Class 9-Man semifinals last year.
“They did more than that last year. They know that they can go further than just making it to state.”
The Rangers last saw the Panthers in 2018 where South Ridge took home a 23-20 win over MI-B. The two teams look a lot different now, but Zubich says he still expects a tough battle from a very powerful team.
“It’s a little bit different this year compared to last year. Both of us have graduated a lot of guys. But South Ridge’s biggest strength is their size in numbers and they’re running game. They always have a lot of kids, a lot of big, physical kids that just keep coming at you.
“We have to tackle well and tackle low against them. They have a stable of running backs and they just throw them in there one after another. They’re not much for passing. If you don’t stop them, it’s a long night and they chew up a lot of clock.”
Another thing the Rangers will have to watch out for is slow starts. In both of their playoff games this year, MI-B has trailed after the first quarter. Ultimately, they got the W, but starting slow is dangerous the further into the postseason a team gets.
“We’ve told our guys numerous times that they can’t afford to have a slow start at this point in the season. Our first quarter against Cook County in the semis was horrible. Last week, it wasn’t as bad against Silver Bay but we were still down 7-0 after the first.
“But I think it has a lot to do with mental toughness for our guys. Last year at state against Stephen-Argyle, we were down I think 14-0 after one quarter and we might not have had a first down until the second. We kept our heads though and the guys just kept going.”
Dealing with cold temps and some snow this week, Zubich believes his team is ready for what could be the most frigid game of the year so far.
“A lot of practice at this point is just mental reps for the guys. There’s not much you can teach them at this point. We go outside because it’s cold and that’s what the game is going to be like on Friday. Hopefully we can get the win and play at U.S. Bank Stadium and be inside the rest of the season. Most of these guys on the roster have experienced playing their and they definitely want to go back there.”
Ultimately, the Rangers know what they need to do to keep their season alive and Friday will be a matter of putting it all together.
“They’ve been in this spot before and I think they’re ready to keep going and extend their season.”
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Class 9-Man State Quarterfinal game against South Ridge is schedule to start Friday at 7 p.m. at Duluth’s Public School Stadium.