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Football preview: Experienced Tigers back on gridiron

The Tigers have just six seniors on the roster. Good thing the underclassmen have plenty of experience.

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PR-B senior Connor Tulenchik runs with the ball during the Tigers' morning practice on Wednesday, Aug. 25. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

The Pine River-Backus football coach Tom Demars said if his team stays healthy, the Tigers should be competitive in all of their games this year because of an experienced lineup when they open the season Thursday, Sept. 2, at Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.

“Even without only six seniors, we do return experienced players throughout our lineup as we have played many ninth and 10th graders over the last two years,” said Demars, who is starting his 11th season as head coach. “If we can stay healthy, we should be competitive in all of our games this year.”

Returning letterwinners are Connor Tulenchik, Owen Carlson, Irvin Tulenchik, Burke Netland, Chance Abraham, Ethan Lodge, Joe Zaczkowski, Nevada Ehlenfeldt, Austin Staricha, Trey Tuchtenhagen, Cole Burrell, Corbin Knapp, Konnor King, Jake Mills, Wyatt Bean, Rian Struss, Ethan Rugroden and Carson Travis.

Last year as fifth seeds, Tigers finished last season with a big victory - upsetting No. 4 Walker Hackensack-Akeley Wolves 29-6 in the first round of the Section 6-1A playoffs on Nov. 17, 2020. But unfortunately, PR-B would not advance to the semifinals against No.3 Ottertail Central since the season was cut short because of COVID-19 safety concerns. The top two remaining seeds did play for the section title, but there was no state tournament.

It was one of the rare times in MSHSL history that a team won a playoff game, but didn’t advance. It was frustrating for the Tigers, but head coach Tom Demars put things in perspective after the W-H-A win.

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“After missing (the previous three) regular season games, we were just happy to get another chance to play, and better yet, we had the opportunity to play (W-H-A). We typically have fun, competitive games with them. And this one was no different. Even though we didn’t get to play another playoff game, we were able to finish the season on a positive note with a win.”

The playoff win was also a bit of revenge for PR-B, which had lost to the Wolves earlier in the season opener.

“COVID certainly made it frustrating at times, but we had guys that stuck with it and made the best of it,” said Demars, whose team finished 2-1 overall in a shortened season.

Assistant coaches include: Rob Johnson, Michael Dinnel, Conner Guetter, Mike Lupella, Mark Gonnion and Nate Fischer.

PR-B football

September

2 - Pine River-Backus at Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, 7 p.m.

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10 - Pine River-Backus at Bagley 7 p.m.

17 - Pine River-Backus at Menahga 7 p.m.

24 - New York Mills at Pine River-Backus 7 p.m.

October

1 - Pine River-Backus at Warroad 7 p.m.

8 - Ada-Borup West at Pine River-Backus 7 p.m.

15 - Lake Park/Audubon at Pine River-Backus 7 p.m. \u0009

20 - Pine River-Backus at Wadena-Deer Creek, 7 p.m.

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