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Montague's Owen Petersen (30) brings down Montrose quarterback Bobby Skinner during the Jan. 9 regional finals game at Montague. The Wildcat defense, which has been terrific all season, faces a grind-it-out Clinton offense Friday in the state finals.

Montague is gunning for its first state championship since the 2008-09 repeat champs when it takes the field Friday against Clinton at Ford Field.

The #1-ranked Wildcats' run defense will need to be fresh, because their opponents are an extremely run-heavy group.

How run-heavy? Clinton has completed only seven passes all season. Quarterback Derek Tomalak is 7-of-28 for the season, with 129 yards passing, three touchdowns and four interceptions.

That's been just fine for the ninth-ranked Clinton squad, which relies on four main backs to carry the ball out of its wing-T formation: Bradyn Lehman, Brayden Randolph, George Ames and David Campbell. Between the quartet, they have over 400 carries on the season, with 43 touchdowns, and each averages over seven yards per attempt.

"They have a full house," Montague coach Pat Collins said of Clinton. "They'll pull guards and bring the whole group of backs to one side of the field. Student Body Right, Student Body Left. They're pure run, very physical, maintain possession, and will try to keep our offense off the field."

Lehman leads the crew, with 998 rushing yards to date on over eight yards per carry. Ames has 852 yards, Randolph has 843, and Campbell has chipped in 674.

The fact that Clinton is unapologetically one-dimensional keeps things somewhat predictable for the Montague defense, which has been so stellar all season. However, it can also be a mental grind as the Wildcats determine which back has the ball each play for Clinton, and try to avoid giving up big plays.

"You can play fast and get after it, but those offenses can frustrate you because it's three yards and a cloud of dust," Collins said. "They're willing to run four downs. They're willing to run from their own 30. They think they'll get three on fourth and one and a half.

"It can frustrate a defense. The offense can pop a big play too, because it's hard to find the ball. You just have to flush that out and dump that out if they pop a big play on you. That's what we've talked a lot about."

And on the back end, where quarterback Drew Collins plays safety in addition to taking the snaps on offense, mental sharpness will be key to avoid those big plays.

"You just can't get caught sleeping back there," Drew Collins said. "You have to be on your toes and come downhill, but also read your keys and make sure nothing gets behind you. You're the cleanup (crew)."

The grind-it-out style has served Clinton well this postseason, as the team has notched four consecutive playoff wins over teams that ended the season ranked ahead of it. First came a 42-24 rout of #7 Erie-Mason; then a 16-13 win over #3 Blissfield, avenging Clinton's lone loss of the season; then a 13-12 squeaker over #4 Warren Michigan Collegiate; and last week in the semifinals, a 40-6 demolition of #8 Constantine.

"That's the goal of every team every year, is to get better and play your best football in the playoffs," Collins said. "It's a tribute to them that they're in this position, in the finals with us. We have to bring our A game if we want to win."

That includes scoring early. Clinton's game plan, given its lack of passing, revolves around staying within striking distance throughout the game. A couple of quick early scores by Montague would change the calculus for Clinton and put it on its heels.

The good news for the Wildcats is that coach Collins feels good about the matchup along the lines, where Montague boasts great size, with Walker Martin, Hayden McDonald and Chris Kessler, among others, clogging the middle of the field for Clinton.

"I think we match up really good," Collins said. "It's one of those attributes we have this year that's helped us up front. When you're battling a team like that, you have to have some bodies up front that are hard to move. We know they're strong too, so they can match that as well."

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