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SEMI-PRO FOOTBALL: Brainerd opens playoffs on road

Brainerd Lumberjacks coach J.J. Kern hopes Saturday’s Midwest Premier Football League playoff game against the Minnesota Sting is more 31-18 than 16-2.

The third-seeded Lumberjacks trampled the Sting 31-18 in late June. Brainerd lost to the No. 2-seeded Sting 16-2 in the second game of the season.

“I think this game we’ll be more well-rounded than the second time,” Kern said. “The second time we mostly did spread. We’re hoping to run spread, as well as run more under-center I-formation as well.

“With limited practice it’s taken a while for our entire offense to get into full effect. I think now we have more formations, more plays, more things to be successful. 

“We run more limited practices than any team in the league because we have a lot of guys who travel so far. We haven’t practiced in over two months. All the other teams practice twice a week. We have to, as coaches, be quick to adjust. Thankfully, we’ve got a lot of good athletes.”

One of them is Titus Cole, a 6-foot, 275-pound defensive tackle, one of three Lumberjacks named an MPFL All-Star.

“He’s a good leader, an unbelievable player,” Kern said. “He’s a guy worth coming to watch. He’s one of my favorite players to watch that we’ve ever had.”

Other Lumberjacks all-stars are defensive end Eric Johnson and two-way lineman Raheem White.

“The Sting has a lot of all-stars, we had three,” Kern said. “A lot of our guys feel like they were snubbed from being an all-star pick.

“If anything, it will be added momentum for us. Some of our guys will play with a chip on their shoulder to prove we were better than last time when it was 24 (players against the Sting’s) 60-some. A lot of our guys were not given the respect they deserve. 

“We’re going to go there, play hard and try to prove them wrong, prove that we’ve got more all-stars than three.”

The Lumberjacks have rebounded from a 1-3 start to even their record at 4-4. It has taken Brainerd a while to jell as a team.

“We’re handcuffed being in the smallest market in the league,” Kern said. “We have to bring players in from farther away than other teams to be competitive. That’s why we end strong, and why, in my opinion, it takes us longer to get continuity.

“Our games are practices at the same time. Some teams have 2-3 practices a week, beginning in January, and use domes. It takes us a while to catch up.

“That’s what helped us the last two years when we won championships, we caught up in time. It just took longer this year. I’m confident where we’re at going into this game.”

Saturday’s other semifinal will send the No. 4 Twin Cities Rhinos to the No. 1 Minnesota Phoenix. Semifinal winners play for the championship Aug. 6 at the high seed.

MPFL note

• Kern said Jordan Ladouceur, a lineman for the Rhinos, impressed at a tryout conducted by the Minnesota Vikings.

“They brought in 200 offensive linemen for a tryout,” Kern said. “120 got released, he made the final 80. He’s on the list of callbacks. That’s something positive for our league, to have a guy who actually got a look from the Vikings.”