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Class 5-A State Football: Brainerd handles Sibley, advances to state semifinals

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COLLEGEVILLE — One of the smallest players on the field made one of the biggest impacts on the outcome.

Brainerd quarterback Thomas Stoxen, all 5-foot-8, 140 pounds of him, rushed for 111 yards and a score and threw for another TD as the Warriors handled Henry Sibley 35-7 in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A state tournament Friday night at Clemens Stadium at St. John’s University.

“It’s kind of the same story, just a different week,” Warriors coach Ron Stolski said of his team’s ground game. “Tommy set the tone again. We think we had a lot of throws there if we wanted to take them, but when you can get control of a game you want to keep control.”

Unbeaten Brainerd (11-0) ran six fewer plays from scrimmage and trailed in time of possession 26 minutes, 35 seconds to 21:25. But both of those statistics were the result of stopping a few long Sibley drives.

The win advances Brainerd to the state semifinals against Chaska or Andover, who play Saturday, Nov. 9. Brainerd, ranked third in Class 5A by The Associated Press, will make the fifth state semifinal appearance in program history at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Metrodome.

“One more step, that’s what I’ve got on my wall,” Stolski said.

“I’m excited,” Stoxen said of playing at the Metrodome. “It should be a lot of fun.”

Brainerd unleashed a relentless rushing game, as it has for virtually each of its three postseason games, rushing for 344 of its 371 total yards. Running back Conor Gessell paced Brainerd with 166 yards on 22 attempts.

“The offensive line has just been fantastic the past two games,” Stoxen said. “They’re just sticking on their blocks, maintaining their blocks, and that’s key.”

Meanwhile, Brainerd’s defense limited Sibley, the fifth seed in Section 5-5A, to 190 total yards and pitched a shutout until 3:06 remained.

“We played very good defense,” Stolski said. “(Sibley) was a pretty good ballclub.”

The contest got off to an ominous start for Brainerd as it fumbled the game’s first offensive snap. Sibley’s Danny Lopez scooped it up and returned 7 yards to the Brainerd 13. But, after three plays, Sibley had to try a 24-yard field goal, which Aidan McConnell kicked wide left.

“We fumbled that first play, but the defense made a heck of a stand, and we just answered,” Stoxen said.

Four plays later, Brainerd began a 28-point run. On first down at the Brainerd 31, Stoxen broke away on an option play for a 69-yard touchdown dash with 9:04 left.

“I followed Conor because they were keying on the backs,” Stoxen said. “Our wides (receivers) did a great job blocking. It was just wide open.”

Following a Sibley three and out, Brainerd needed just six plays to score on a Logan Davis 7-yard burst. Stoxen passed to Davis for the 2-point conversion and a 14-0 lead.

Brainerd maintained its 14-point lead until its final possession of the half when it zipped 54 yards in nine plays. The drive was capped by a 24-yard pass from Stoxen to Cole Smith who slanted inside and dashed to the end zone for a 21-point lead with 37 seconds left in the half.

“We haven’t run one all year,” Stoxen said of the play. “Cole had a great route and a great catch. I just put it where he could catch it.”

On the opening possession of the second half, a 13-play Sibley drive stalled with a punt. Brainerd promptly marched 96 yards in 16 rushes to take a commanding 28-0 lead with 9:59 left in the game. Brainerd converted three third downs in the drive, which ended with a 4-yard Davis TD run.

“That one drive when we got in a hole from (96) yards out, that was the killer,” Stolski said.

Four plays after Sibley scored for the only time, on a 1-yard plunge by Anastacio VandenBosh-Romo, Gessell romped 46 yards for the game’s final score with 1:09 left.

Game note: Brainerd’s other trips to the state semifinals were in 1990, 2007, 2009 and 2010.

Henry Sibley 0 0 0 7 — 7

Brainerd 14 7 0 14 — 35

First quarter

Brd-Thomas Stoxen 69 run (kick fails) 9:04

Brd-Logan Davis 7 run (Davis pass from Stoxen) 5:05

Second quarter

Brd-Cole Smith 24 pass from Stoxen (Logan McElfresh kick) 0:37

Fourth quarter

Brd-Logan Davis 4 run (Logan McElfresh kick) 9:59

HS-Anastacio VandenBosh-Romo 1 run (Aidan McConnell kick) 3:06

Brd-Gessell 46 run (Logan McElfresh kick) 1:09

Team statistics

Rushes-yards: HS 45-164, Brd 45-344

Pass comp-att-int-yds: HS 3-10-0-26, Brd 2-4-0-27

Total offense: HS 190, Brd 371

Individual leaders

Rushing: Brd-Thomas Stoxen 9-111, Conor Gessell 22-166, Logan Davis 13-62, Isaiah Smith 1-5; HS-Kenneth Jinkins 7-22, Santino Satar 1-2, Zach

Gottfredsen 10-47, Anastacio VandenBosh-Romo 21-74, Stacy Wood 6-19

Passing: Brd-Stoxen 2-4-27; HS-Stacy Wood 3-10-26

Receiving: Brd-Isaiah Smith 1-3, Cole Smith 1-24; HS-Aidan McConnell 1-7, Kenneth Jinkins 2-19

MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at