Lopsided halftime margins in two games so far this season forced Spring Lake Park football coach Jeff Schlieff to bench his starters. That didn't stop senior Derek Malbrue from lobbying.

"He'd be the one asking me, 'Can I get back in? Can I get back in?'" Schlieff said. "It's hard to get him out of the game but this week he'll need some of that energy he saved."

The 3-0 Panthers play at 3 p.m. Saturday at Robbinsdale Cooper (2-1), a team Schlieff respects for its playmaking ability and physical style. The latter is a perfect fit for Malbrue, who plays guard, fullback and middle linebacker.

The Hawks average 52 points per game while Malbrue's Panthers allow just seven points per game.

"It's going to be a battle," said Malbrue, who is 6-1 and 225 pounds. "We're both going to get knocked down, but whoever gets up the most times is going to have the game."

Malbrue spoke with Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about the matchup with Robbinsdale Cooper and the benefits of joining the Spring Lake Park wrestling team as a novice last winter.

Q You guys went to state last season and came out of the gate 3-0 this season. How are you feeling about yourselves?

A Last year was a good season so what we're really trying to do is build off that. We're working harder than we did last year to go a little farther.

Q Coach Schlieff said you tried out for basketball last winter and got cut. But then right away you joined the wrestling team. Did you have any experience?

A No, it was my first time wrestling. It was pretty interesting but I am glad I did it. It made me really well-conditioned. And it's something that kept me competitive all winter. It's a hard-working, tough sport.

Q What weight did you wrestle at and how did you do?

A Our 195-pounder quit kind of early in the year so they threw me to the wolves at the varsity level. I ended up 15-16 on varsity. I'm not much of a loser so when I would get beat up, I took it over to practice and worked as hard as I could.

Q Coach Schlieff said it made you a better football player because you lost about 10 pounds and got a lot tougher. Do you see that this fall?

A Yeah, I definitely do. It's funny because wrestling is really about tackling. Before my first varsity match I really didn't know what to do but my coach said, 'It's just like football so tackle the guy.'

Q Let's look ahead to Cooper. Are you expecting a real physical battle with that team?

A Definitely. I remember last year coming home on the bus. We won but we were pretty beat up. It was probably one of the most physical games we had last year. We have a lot of respect for them. We will be preparing this week for those battles. It's going to be a tough one.

Q Coach Schlieff joked you were probably the player who bugged him the most about getting back into blowout games this season. I imagine you'll get all the playing time you want this week.

A This is definitely going to be a four-quarter game. We're going to prepare for this game like it's a playoff game because it's going to be that type of game -- down to the wire.

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574