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Area Football: Leidenfrost’s late touchdown leads Pierz to victory

A late, eight-play drive was the dagger the Pierz Pioneers used to top the Minnewaska Lakers Friday, Oct. 30.

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Pierz's Michael Leidenfrost runs with the ball against Minnewaska Friday, Oct. 30, at Don Adamson Field in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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Sometimes it’s best to go with what you know.

With time winding down and Pierz clinging to a two-point lead, the Pioneers went to Michael Leidenfrost and the senior didn’t disappoint.

The lone returning starter from last year’s Class 3A state champion team carried the ball eight straight times on the Pioneers’ final drive that ended with Leidenfrost scoring on an 8-yard run with 1:05 left in the game. The touchdown handed the undefeated Pioneers a 14-6 victory over the Minnewaska Lakers Friday, Oct. 30, at Brainerd High School.

“There was a lot of tension on that last drive,” Leidenfrost said. “We knew we could pull it off, though, if we just did what we know how to do. It was so important to get that final drive in the end zone.”

Leidenfrost opened the drive with a 16-yard run, but Minnewaska forced a fourth and 2 and their own 20 on the next set of downs. To no one’s surprise, Pierz quarterback Noah Cekalla handed the ball off to Leidenfrost to burst through the line of scrimmage for a 6-yard gain and a first down with three minutes remaining on the fourth-quarter clock.

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Three plays later, Leidenfrost scored from 8 yards out to finish with 111 yards on 23 carries.

“He’s a special back and you can’t say enough about having a guy like that on your roster,” Pierz head coach Danny Saehr said. “We have so much trust in him and it’s just a relief to have a guy with sure hands running the ball late in the game. Our entire coaching staff has all the trust in him and he stepped up and played a great game.”

Pierz came out throwing the ball to start the game. Cekalla was 6-of-13 passing for 100 yards and Pierz’s first touchdown, a 25-yard rainbow into the hands of junior tight end Zach Jones for an 8-0 Pierz lead at the end of the first quarter. Pierz’s 13 passes were just one less than its 14 rush attempts.

In the second half, however, Pierz went to the run game.

“We have all the faith in our passing offense and we figured they would work all week on stopping our bread and butter plays,” Saehr said. “In that second half, though, we just couldn’t give our quarterback enough time so we had to go back to our running game.”

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Pierz's Noah Cekalla throws the ball while avoiding Minnewaska defender Ryan VanLuik Friday, Oct. 30, at Don Adamson Field in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Pierz only rushed for 111 yards total on 36 carries, but with everyone at Adamson Field knowing what Class 3A’s seventh-ranked team would do, Pierz still got it done.

“(Offensive coordinator) Dave Rocheleau always says that even though the other team might put 10 or 11 people in the box, and on paper, there is no way to block it, you still have to find a way and gain yards. That’s what we did today. You just have to come off the ball hard and find a way.”

Minnewaska used two-time defending wrestling champion Tyson Meyer for most of its offense. The 185-pound senior back rushed for 113 yards, but only 16 in the second half. It was Meyer’s 4-yard plunge up the middle that gave the Lakers their only score of the game to make it 8-6 at the end of the half.

“He was a hard guy to bring down,” Leidenfrost said. “We had a lot of contact out there and he was tough. We knew he was going to be a handful, but we just had to all get to the football and bring him down together.”

The Lakers managed just 160 yards of offense. Pierz’s Isaac Walcheski and Leidenfrost both had fumble recoveries in the first half.

Despite Pierz’s last touchdown, the two-point conversion failed and kept Minnewaska a touchdown and two-point conversion away from tying.

The Lakers returned the kickoff to the 31, but two plays later Kolten Happke picked off Mitchell Gruber and slid to the ground to end the threat.

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“Winning tough, physical games like this is so important,” Saehr said. “We’ve had two or three games now where we used a late drive to either milk four or five minutes off the clock, or in today’s case, give us a bit of a cushion. Those types of drives are huge. They give a team a lot of confidence. Again, we managed to do that today even though we aren’t the biggest team. We just found a way.”

Minnewaska 0 6 0 0 -- 6
Pierz 8 0 0 6 -- 14

First quarter
Prz-Zach Jones 25 pass from Noah Cekalla (Jeremy Bingesser pass from Cekalla) 2.7

Second quarter
M-Tyson Meyer 4 run (Pass failed) 0.2

Fourth quarter
Prz-Michael Leidenfrost 8 run (Pass failed) 1.05

Team statistics
Rushes-yards: Prz 34-112, Minn 33-154
Pass comp-att-int-yds: Prz 9-18-1-109, Minn 5-11-1-56
Total offense: Prz 54-220, Minn 44-160

Individual leaders
Rushing: Prz-Michael Leidenfrost 23-111, Chandler Doucette 2-6, Issac Walcheski 2-8, Benjamin Virnig 3-4, Kirby Fischer 1-(-3), Noah Cekalla 4-(-14), Team 1-(-1); Minn-Tyson Meyer 20-113, Mitchell Gruber 6-16, Aaron Ver Steeg 4-14, Max Reichmann 2-15, Jackson Stadsvold 1-(-4)
Passing: Prz-Cekalla 9-18-109; Minn-Gruber 5-11-56
Receiving: Prz-Leidenfrost 4-43, Kolten Happke 1-11, Zach Jones 3-52, Walcheski 1-3; Minn-Stadsvold 2-13, Peyton Johnsrud 1-8, Meyer 1-9, Van Steeg 1-6

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop .

Pierz 14, Minnewaska 6

Key: An eight-play, 44-yard drive capped off with a touchdown run with a minute left sealed Pierz’s win.

Overall: Prz 4-0, Minn 1-3.

Next: Pierz at Rockford 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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