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High School Football: Special teams keys Royalton past Pierz

Both Pierz losses, Rockford and Eden Valley-Watkins, have lost to the Royalton Royals.

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Pierz's Alexander Gerwig, 74, runs in front of teammate Reese Young as Young carries the ball against Royalton Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, at Pierz. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

PIERZ — Royalton likely played itself into a No. 1 seed.

The Pierz Pioneers, unfortunately, likely played themselves out of one as they fell to the Royals 16-0 in the regular-season finale Wednesday, Oct. 20.

It started with the opening kickoff that Royalton returned 81 yards to the Pierz 2. Three plays later, Royalton quarterback Drew Yourzcek found Zachary Ellerbusch for a 4-yard touchdown pass. The 2-point conversion was good and the Royals held an 8-0 lead before two minutes had ticked off the clock.

“Obviously, when you start the game with a big kickoff return like that it’s always going to set the tone,” Royalton head coach James Morford said. “I thought our special teams played great all night long. We had great punts. They were bringing the house and we got out of there. It was really nice special teams play.”

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Pierz’s first possession resulted in a three-and-out, but on the punt attempt, the snap sailed and was finally recovered at the Pioneers’ 34. Pierz’s defense prevented any more damage, forcing a loss on downs.

“That’s a good football team over there and we knew we had to come in and limit the turnovers and you can’t give them the ball at the 5-yard line to start the game,” Pierz head coach Danny Saehr said. “You can’t have turnovers like that. You lose the turnover battle and you’re going to end up on the short end of the stick.

“I thought we played hard and I thought we did a lot of good things, but we shot ourselves in the foot. We get moving on offense and we have two guys jump offsides. You can’t have that. You can’t do that. We got on the kids because we are not talented enough to overcome mistakes like that. If you’re going to make a run in the playoffs, you can’t shoot yourselves in the foot Tip my cap to Royalton. They outplayed us tonight and the scoreboard showed it.”

Pierz Football vs Royalton Gallery

Pierz picked up two first downs on its next possession, but on first and 10 the Pioneers fumbled it away. Royalton drove to the Pierz 9, but on first and goal the Royals returned the favor with a fumble of their own.

Pierz collected two more first downs on its next drive, one thanks to a screen pass from Andrew Winscher to Jacob LeBlanc that traveled 23 yards, but back-to-back 5-yard penalties set the Pioneers with a first and 20 they couldn’t overcome.

The Royals then rattled off a 12-play, 70-yard drive capped off by Will Gorecki 11-yard touchdown run. Yourzcek rushed in for the 2-point conversion and the Royals owned a 16-0 lead.

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“I was very confident in the game plan we had coming in on both offense and defense,” Saehr said. “When you get backed up like that it is tough because it kind of takes the wind out of your sails. The opening kickoff they almost take to the house. That’s when you have to have kids on the field be leaders. I thought we came up with a couple of big stops on defense down by our goal line. We could have been down 24-0 at the half.

“You just have to find a way to get the momentum back.”

That score held as neither team had much success moving the ball against the other’s defense. Pierz did put together a 10-play, 26-yard drive that stalled on the Royalton 24. A brisk breeze and rain hampered the Pioneers’ air attack.

“We’ve lost two in a row and to be honest, we’ve been involved with four or five close games this year,” Saehr said. “I think our section is wide open. I think we’ll probably get a two-seed now, which means a first-round home playoff game and if you can’t get amped up for that then you better check the heart rate. Hopefully, we’re able to get a few guys back. We’re down a few guys, but there are no excuses. We need guys to step up and make plays. It’s playoff mode and for our seniors, it could be their last game.”

Reese Young led the Pioneers rushing attack with 63 yards on 16 carries and quarterback Andrew Winscher was 6-of-18 passing for 77 yards. LeBlanc caught two passes for 48 yards and rushed for 40 more yards as Pierz outgained Royalton 201-135.

“Pierz is going to run some basic plays, but they are really, really good at them,” Morford said. “We just had to make sure we were reading our keys and doing the right things. I’m going to tip my cap to Pierz, they came out in the second half and gave us some false reads which were really giving us fits, but our defense has played like this all year long.”

Royalton’s Connor Carlson carried the ball 21 times for 70 yards to lead all running backs.

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Royalton 8 8 0 0 -- 16
Pierz 0 0 0 0 -- 0

First quarter
R-Zachary Ellerbusch 4 pass from Drew Yourczek (Connor Carlson run) 10:19
Second quarter
R-Will Gorecki 11 run (Yourczek run) 6:11

Team statistics
Rushes-yards: P 41-124, R 40-130
Pass comp-att-int-yds: P 6-18-0-77, R 2-5-5
Total offense: P 59-201, R 45-135

Individual leaders
Rushing: P-Trevor Radunz 6-22, Kirby Fischer 2-3, Reese Young 16-63, Jacob LeBlanc 12-40, Mitchell Smude 1-0, Andy Winscher 3-(-4); R-Connor Carlson 21-70, Drew Yourczek 9-11, Will Gorecki 10-48
Passing: P-Winscher 6-18-77; R-Yourczek 2-5-5
Receiving: P-Hunter Hoheisel 1-3, Radunz 1-7, Smude 1-4, LeBlanc 2-48, Caden Knutson 1-8; R-Zachary Ellerbusch 1-4, James Vannurden 1-1

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

Royalton 16, Pierz 0

Key: A big opening kickoff return and a stout Royalton defense

Overall: Prz 5-3, Roy 7-1.

Next: Pierz in Section 6-3A Semifinals Saturday, Oct. 30, time and opponent TBD.

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Pierz's Mitchell Smude takes the ball up the field against Royalton Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, at Pierz. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

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