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Bombers cruise in postseason

Being best of friends, quarterback Hayden Charboneau and wide receiver Caden Sheff didn't need long to respond when asked what the pair of Barnum football standouts do together outside of the sport.

"More football," said Sheff, with a smile.

That was evidenced early Tuesday night, as the two needed just 79 seconds to connect when Charboneau slung the ball to Sheff in the end zone to card the first of nine touchdowns the Bombers scored in their 65-6 win over East Central in a Section 7A quarterfinal on a brisk evening in Barnum.

The Bombers (6-3) needed just a few plays to score on their opening possession, driving in a flash and ending when Charboneau connected with Sheff on an 18-yard touchdown toss. On their next possession, the downfield duo was at it again, less than five minutes later, when Charboneau found a streaking Sheff down the sideline for a score of 33 yards.

"We just wanted to come out hard and score right away," said the sure-handed Sheff. "We want to score as fast as we can and as many times as we can."

Averaging 42 points per contest, Barnum has done that in many of its games this fall. The Bombers' 65 points Tuesday was the team's highest output of the season, as third-seeded Barnum scored 22 points in the first quarter, led 44-0 at halftime and eased by the Eagles (1-8) in a runaway game that saw six separate Bombers score touchdowns.

While Sheff snagged two first-quarter touchdowns through the air, the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder produced a 36-yard score down the left sideline via his legs, too. Not long before, senior Ryan Manahan caught a pair of Charboneau TD passes, of 40 and 12 yards, the first of which came on the opening play of the second quarter.

Charboneau, a 6-2, 195-pound signal-caller, is sizable and strong, yet isn't afraid to throw the football early and often. His four touchdowns in the team's 59-point win all came in the opening 24 minutes before halftime, including well-over the century mark in yardage.

As quick as he was scoring touchdowns Tuesday, Charboneau deflected the praise.

"Our offensive line is obviously the key," said Charboneau, who often had clean pockets and plenty of time to throw against East Central. "That's what makes our success so great."

Sheff echoed those statements when speaking of do-it-all offensive linemen in seniors Braden Parzy, Brady Coughlin, Christian Olson and juniors Jake Liimatainen, Mark Hall and Brayden Carlson. The half-dozen upperclassmen are rugged up front, clearing gaping holes and allowing for plentiful time.

"They're pushing guys all over the place," Sheff said. "They're what's making us look so good."

Barnum, scoring over 42 points per night, sure is looking good. While Sheff scored three times on Tuesday and Manahan twice, the Bombers also got touchdowns from Cole Laitinen, Julian Beckstrand and Eli Rock on the ground, as well as an 18-yard scoop-and-score fumble recovery from senior Alex Sparks on special teams in the third quarter. Senior Layne Wickstrom added an interception and an extra point that was the highlight of the fourth quarter.

"We're so hyped," said Charboneau of Wickstrom's crossbar-clearing kick.

"We've talked about it since Day One," added third-year Barnum head coach Bob Minkkinen of his Bombers, winners of three in a row. "We just have to get better one day at a time. Our phrase is 'brick by brick.' And our kids are peaking at the right time."

The 28-year-old Minkkinen is a 2012 Barnum alum and former quarterback on the Bombers' 2010 state squad, while assistant coach Brady Youngberg helped Barnum to the 2010 and 2012 state tournaments as a two-way lineman and went on to star at Division II Bemidji State. The two took over their alma mater program in 2020 and brought the Bombers back to the Section 7A championship game last year.

For Barnum, that was a loss to defending 7A state champion Deer River. While the defeat left the Bombers one step short of the state tournament, it provides fuel to get Barnum back to the top.

"We've got that on our minds this year," said Charboneau. "We're hungry."

While top-seeded and unbeaten Deer River (9-0) plays host to fourth-seeded Chisholm (6-3) in one 7A semifinal, it is an all-Bombers semifinal in the other, as Barnum will travel to second-seeded Braham (7-2). Both games are set for a 2 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, October 29. The 7A final will be on Nov. 4, in Proctor.

For Barnum to return to the final, the Bombers will need to avenge a loss to Braham on Sept. 16 that included over 100 total points in a 60-44 defeat. Expect plenty more points in Round 2 of the battle of the Bombers.

"Braham is a really tough team," Minkkinen said. "We have to take care of the ball. A lost possession is a lost chance to score."

And, as shown Tuesday with Charboneau, Sheff and company, Barnum likes to score in all sorts of ways.

"It's really hard for the defense to decipher who we're going to give the ball to," said Charboneau, excited for Saturday's rematch. "We're ready."

 
 
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