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Football: Pierz charges back, but St. Croix prevails

St. Croix 35, Pierz 28 Key: Mike Stern rushed for 257 yards and three touchdowns Overall: Prz 10-2; SCL 12-0 Next: Class 3A state championship at US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis 1 p.m. Saturday MINNEAPOLIS--Time can not be beat and Mike Stern could ...

Pierz’s Brandon Ortman reacts near the end of the game as the Pierz Pioneers lose to St. Croix Lutheran Saturday during the Class 3A state semifinal at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video
Pierz’s Brandon Ortman reacts near the end of the game as the Pierz Pioneers lose to St. Croix Lutheran Saturday during the Class 3A state semifinal at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video

St. Croix 35, Pierz 28

Key: Mike Stern rushed for 257 yards and three touchdowns

Overall: Prz 10-2; SCL 12-0

Next: Class 3A state championship at US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis 1 p.m. Saturday

MINNEAPOLIS-Time can not be beat and Mike Stern could not be stopped.

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The junior running back rushed for 257 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries and the St. Croix Lutheran Crusaders held on to eliminate the Pierz Pioneers 35-28 In Saturday's Class 3A state semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium.

While the first three quarters were the Stern show, the last quarter was all Pierz, who scored 21 points to cut St. Croix's 35-7 lead to the final score. But Stern and the Crusaders were able to run out the clock on the Pioneers season with a kneel down on the final play.

"I was proud of our kids, the way we played defense, " said St. Croix head coach Carl Lemke. "We knew they were going to drive the ball to a certain extent, but we stopped them when we had to. We did play solid defense and we got our ground game going.

"But obviously the fourth quarter got a little harry with the ball in the air. All week we deemphasized the pass and it showed."

Trailing 35-7 and struggling to move the ball, Pierz exploded for three touchdowns in the final quarter. All of which occurred after being stuffed on four offensive plays from inside St. Croix's 4.

Pierz's second possession of the second half went 15 plays and 78 yards, but it needed to go 79. Despite having the ball first and goal at the 4, Pierz couldn't break the plane. On St. Croix's second play after the loss on downs, Pierz's Brandon Ortman caused a fumble that Brett Kapsner recovered. Six players later Lane Girtz rushed in from a yard out to start the rally.

After the Pioneers recovered an onside kick, Rocheleau hit Ben Herold for a 31-yard strike creating a first and goal at St. Croix's 10. Rocheleau than pitched the ball to Lukas Otter, who faked running right, turned around and threw a 15-yard touchdown strike back to Rocheleau.

Pierz wasn't done yet. After forcing a loss on downs, Pierz marched down the field thanks to a 20-yard pass and catch between Rocheleau and Lane Girtz on fourth down. On the next play Rocheleau hit Ben Herold for a 25-yard TD pass to make it 35-28.

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"There's no quit in Pierz, but we just couldn't get any defensive stops on them," said Pierz head coach Leo Pohlkamp. "They were just a machine. We played our hearts out and we got some things going there in the fourth quarter and we just ran out of time. We relied a little bit more on our passing game then we wanted to, but every yard we had to earn in the running game was a hard earned yard. We just couldn't get enough of them. A lot of times they held us to 2 or 3 yard and we're not used to that. Credit St. Croix Lutheran's defense."

Like it had done for the first three quarters, St. Croix was able to pick up a first down and then a big play to run out the clock on Pierz's season.

"How about that team we just played," Lemke asked. "There was no quit in them. That No. 46 (Lane Girtz), that back, he did everything. Kicked the ball, onside kicked. He was on defense. He did everything. He was something else. They gave their hearts. Pierz has that tradition. Those farm boys love the game and they play it so consistently. They were so impressive in that fourth quarter."

Stern impressed the entire game. He started the second half just as he finished the first-with a touchdown. His third touchdown covered just 2 yards, but capped off a 10-play, 82-yard drive to open the second half.

Pierz's first possession of the second half ended with a James Chernohorsky interception. Seven plays later, quarterback Isaac Tietz scored his second touchdown with a 1-yard sneak off right tackle to make it 35-7 St. Croix.

"I think we were doing everything we had to do," Tietz said. "We just let our foot off the gas and got a little too relaxed and you can't do that in the game of football. You have to keep your foot on the gas the whole time. You can't let up."

The first half was all Stern as he rushed for 196 yards and two touchdowns, including the game's first score, after busting off an 88-yard sprint. His second touchdown, a 15-yard run, bookended Tietz's 2-yard plunge.

"The veer is always hard to defend and their linemen are really fast and if you keep showing them the same look they were just dialed in," said Pierz linebacker Brett Kapsner. "We didn't do a very good job of adjusting to it."

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Pierz answered Stern's opening touchdown with a 16-play, 66-yard drive capped off with Ortman's 21-yard run on fourth and two. It was the second fourth-down conversion of the drive for Pierz.

The Pioneers set up a second scoring opportunity with time running down in the half. After a 42-yard bomb from Rocheleau to Logan Lease and then a 14-yard pass play to Jalen Jansen, Pierz had the ball at the Crusaders 2 with five seconds left. The Pioneers attempted a double reverse pass from Luke Girtz to a wide open Rocheleau. The pass, however, was long and ended the half with the Pioneers trailing 21-7.

"In their man-to-man defense, the quarterback is the one that's unaccounted for," said Pohlkamp. "Preston was open, but it was just a tad over him. If we would have scored before halftime it would have been 21-14 so we missed on that flea flicker."

Pohlkamp admitted the one play could have changed the momentum, but praised his players for not giving up when down 35-7 heading into the fourth quarter.

"That's the thing about us," Pohlkamp said. "We've been battling injuries all year and we just kept plugging in new faces. You start to wonder about them, but there is no quit in Pierz-ever."

St. Croix 7 14 14 0-35

Pierz 7 0 0 21-28

First quarter

SCL-Mike Stern 88 run (Rafael Rehme kick) 8:49

Prz-Brandon Ortman 21 run (Preston Rocheleau kick) 1:19

Second quarter

SCL-Isaac Tietz 1 run (Rehme kick) 8:42

SCL-Stern 15 run (Rehme kick) :51

Third quarter

SCL-Stern 2 run (Rehme kick) 7:28

SCL-Tietz 1 run (Rehme kick) 2:47

Fourth quarter

Prz-Lane Girtz 1 run (Rocheleau kick) 6:43

Prz-Rocheleau 15 pass from Lukas Otte (Rocheleau kick) 5:28

Prz-Ben Herod 25 pass from Rocheleau (Rocheleau kick) 3:09

Team statistics

Rushes-yards: Prz 46-148, SCL 47-449

Pass comp-att-int-yds: Prz 10-21-1-182, SCL 5-5-0-60

Total offense: Prz 67-330, SCL 52-509

Individual leaders

Rushing: Prz-Brandon Ortman 10-56, Lane Girtz 29-78, Carson Huls 4-12, Cohlton Boser 1-2, Preston Rocheleau 2-5; SCL-Mike Stern 23-257, Daniel Rust 12-118, Isaac Tietz 11-76, Team 1-0

Passing: Prz-Preston Rocheleau 9-17-167 , Luke Girtz 0-1-0, Lukas Otte 1-2-15; SCL- Tietz 5-5-60

Receiving: Prz-Ben Herold 3-70, Jalen Jansen 1-14, Lane Girtz 3-18, Logan Lease 2-65, Rocheleau 1-15; SCL- Garett Maag 3-24, Thiago Carvalho 1-6, Stephen Kletscher 1-30

Related Topics: PIERZ PIONEERS
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