SECTION 6-2A FOOTBALL: Pierz hopes to end Sauk Centre’s upset bid
It’s a rare meeting between school districts just 54 miles apart.
The top-seeded Pioneers, who have been ranked as high as third in The Associated Press poll this season and are currently ranked seventh, advanced to the section final by eliminating Wadena-Deer Creek 47-7 and Holdingford 20-0. It’s their eighth section final in the last nine years.
“Health-wise, we’re good,” said Pierz head coach Leo Pohlkamp. “This is probably the first year that we don’t have anybody sitting out. We’re tapping a lot of ankles, but that’s mainly precaution. The kids only had to play a half in the quarterfinal, but Holdingford played really well. We had to play hard for four quarters.”
Since 2003, Pierz is 4-1 at the Fargodome. The Pioneers last played there Nov. 6, 2009, and defeated the then-unbeaten Crosby-Ironton Rangers 13-6 to advance to their eighth state football tournament.
“What I was telling the kids at the beginning of the week is that we’ve been there (Fargodome) before and we know it’s going to be hot and loud,” said Pohlkamp, who has 201 career victories. “The Fargodome gets hot. Against C-I we played a whole half and then at halftime we were staring out to a bunch of red faces. The boys were sweating their butts off.
“We’ll get them ready for the heat by doing conditioning drills inside the school.”
The bigger test will be seventh-seeded Sauk Centre, which has surprised many with upset wins over second-seeded Osakis (56-29) and sixth-seeded Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (48-0).
Sauk Centre entered the playoffs with a 2-6 record. Its two wins were against winless Minnewaska and St. James.
“They were a 3A school the last few years and they play in a 3A conference (West Central) with Albany, New London-Spicer and Melrose,” Pohlkamp said. “We’ve never played them before. In fact, because of the new class system, they are going back up to 3A next year.”
The Mainstreeters were outscored during the season 31.0-26.5, while Pierz (9-1) outscored its opponents 31.2-11.5 and won the Central Minnesota Conference. Of the eight teams in the CMC, four are playing in section finals and that doesn’t include Eden Valley-Watkins, which had gone to state the seven previous seasons.
Pohlkamp said they key to Sauk Centre’s recent success has been its running game and the play of junior back Roosevelt Austin.
“He’s a 1,000-yard rusher and a big kid,” Pohlkamp said. “He’s a good-sized kid, who they throw to and run. He’s averaging 7.5 yards per carry. He runs hard and breaks a lot of tackles. He’s a lot of their offense.
“I didn’t see too much passing because they game I saw was over at halftime. They do have another running back who is pretty decent, but they are a team that has given up points this year.”
In their win against W-DC, seven different Pioneers rushed for at least 20 yards on the way to 319 total rushing yards.
Against Holdingford, Josh Lanners and Nathan Tomala surpassed 100 yards as Pierz racked up 265 yards of rushing and held the Huskers to just 104 yards of total offense.
“What I see from them is they run a 4-4 and we’ve seen that defense before,” said Pohlkamp. “Hopefully we’ll be able to move the ball against them. But if they are good enough to stop us well ... ”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.