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Maple Grove rides stout defense to regional win

When Maple Grove’s scoring 40 points week in and week out, it’s easy to sleep on just how dominant its defense has been.

Friday it was obvious how down-right suffocating it can be.

Maple Grove shutout Section V’s Alexander, 28-0, in the Class D Far West Regional at New Era Field on Friday to punch its ticket to the state semifinals.

Alexander could only muster 142 yards of total offense and averaged under a yard per carry on the ground.

“I say it all the time, we pride ourselves on defense,” Maple Grove senior linebacker Trevor Micek said. Everyone sees “that we score a lot of points every game, but really our defense is the heart of our team, that’s what we pride ourselves on and it really showed tonight.”

The Red Dragons forced Alexander into five turnovers, including intercepting Alexander standout quarterback PJ Brennan four times.

The turnovers proved to be costly as Maple Grove scored 14 points off those takeaways. Micek’s first-quarter interception led to a 12-yard touchdown run by Brad Benson. In the fourth quarter, senior defensive back Nick Fabrizio picked off Brennan and it led to a 6-yard touchdown run by Micek.

Maple Grove led 14-0 at halftime, holding Alexander to 51 total yards.

“How easy does it make your job when your defensive coordinator —who is awesome — Dan Greco tells you, ‘Just give me one more score and we’ll be OK,’” Maple Grove head coach Curt Fischer said.

Alexander’s explosive offense came into the matchup averaging 40 ppg. A talented quarterback in Brennan, a shifty running back in Dane Heberlein and a rangy, 6-foot-2 receiver in Derrick Busch, made it quite the task for Maple Grove to stop. The Red Dragons were up for the challenge.

Alexander didn’t reach the red zone once. Brennan managed to complete just 10 of 29 attempts for 117 yards. The four interceptions he threw equaled his season total coming into the game.

“They had a lot of weapons, but coach Dan Greco had us reping our defensive system all week long,” Benson said.  “We knew all our jobs, everyone was in the right place on every play.

For the second year in a row, Maple Grove was forced to enter the regionals without its starting quarterback Dalton Dubois, who suffered an ankle injury in last week’s win over Ellicottville-Franklinville. Sophomore Easton Tanner started in his place.

“Dalton was in our heart the whole game,” Fischer said. “We got really good news yesterday about Dalton — there’s a possibility he may be playing next week.”

Without Dubois, Maple Grove rode the ground game to victory. Benson ran 26 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns, including 39-yarder on the second-half’s first drive. Micek chipped in with 15 carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns.

Maple Grove advances to the Class D state semifinals at 5 p.m. Nov. 18 at Cicero-North Syracuse where it will face Central Region champion Sidney.

Maple Grove played in Class C as a combined team with Chautauqua Lake the previous two years. It reached the semifinals in 2014, losing to Chenango Forks, 27-0. It will be Maple Grove’s first trip to the Class D semifinals since 2008, when it won the state championship.

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