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State Football: Pierz looks to continue success in state

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Matthias Algeran rushes into the end zone during the Pierz Pioneers victory over Perham Saturday, Nov. 9. Pierz will play Jackson County Central Saturday, Nov. 16, in the Class 3A State Semifinals. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The Pierz Pioneers find themselves in familiar territory under the lights at U.S. Bank Stadium for the Class 3A State Semifinals Saturday, Nov. 16.

Jackson County Central is the opponent and the Huskies and Pioneers played in the 2015 Class 3A title game at TCF Bank Stadium. The Pioneers won 36-8 to claim their second state title ever, but their first Class 3A title.

The Pioneers are looking for their third state title in six years and will look to get past the Huskies in order to get that chance.

Pierz head coach Dan Saehr advanced his team to this point in his first year as head coach. He remembers the 2015 game against Jackson County Central when he was an assistant coach and sees similarities preparing for the upcoming game.

“They run some of the same stuff they did back then,” Saehr said. “They have a little different makeup of the team right now. They are very physical all the way across the board and have a lot of athletes. Looking at this year’s film, their fullback is a load and their quarterback is as athletic a kid we’ve seen -- he can make plays with his arm and his feet.”

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Saehr knows playing in big games is no new thing for his team. Even though a lot of his players have been to the state semifinals before, he feels there is still excitement about this season.

“Even though they have been there and played in the game last year, these kids are still excited to get there (U.S. Bank),” Saehr said. “They also know it’s another football game and our job is to execute and play really well.”

In the Pioneers' 12 games, they are outscoring opponents by 451 total points and 38 points-per-game average.

The offense is led by the dynamic running back tandem of Matthias Algarin and Blake Kowalczyk. Algarin, who is committed to running track and playing football at the University of Nebraska next year, has rushed for 1,060 yards and 20 touchdowns. His running mate Kowalczyk has 775 yards rushing with 16 touchdowns.

“They are an extremely difficult offense to key in on,” Huskies head coach Tom Schuller said. “Even though they run the wishbone, I like to call it a second cousin to the T stuff every team seems to be running right now. It’s a lot of misdirection and it comes at you real fast. The added problem is they have a kid in the backfield that runs a 4.3 (40-yard dash) which is fast in the NFL.

“All the backs they give the ball to are really good. So when you make a mistake it’s not your average 8-yard mistake. It becomes 60 to 70 yards, which puts a lot of stress on the defense. We are going to be on turf, so it will be a fast game.”

Schuller said preparing for Pierz is like going back in a time machine to the 1950s and having to come up with an old school defense. Most of the teams Jackson County Central plays run a spread offense and Pierz is almost the antithesis of that.

“It’s basically 1950s football and modern defenses are just not equipped to play like that,” Schuller said.

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Michael Leidenfrost serves as a third running back for Pierz and has rushed for 548 yards and six touchdowns, but his presence has been felt on defense. Leidenfrost leads the Pioneers in unassisted tackles with 48 and second in total tackles with 79. Isaac Otte is the leader for Pierz in total tackles with 83.

The Pioneers rarely throw the ball, but have been successful in finding their main targets -- Algarin as a deep threat and Leidenfrost in the screen game. Quarterback Peter Schommer has thrown 11 touchdowns to three interceptions for a total of 1,005 yards. Algarin is the leading receiver with 17 catches for 421 yards and five touchdowns.

Overall, Pierz has outgained its opponents by 244 yards per game and accumulated an average of 22 first downs per game. The Pioneers have also averaged 46 points a game.

“Both teams try to take away the other teams strength and bread and butter plays,” Saehr said. “In games like this, where it’s evenly matched teams -- its a break here and winning the turnover battle. But I’d argue whatever team controls the line scrimmage might have a say in the final outcome.”

Class 3A State Semifinals

Matchup: Pierz Pioneers (12-0) vs. Jackson County Central Huskies (11-0)

When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16

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Where: U.S. Bank Stadium

Last Matchup: Pierz won 36-8 in the 2015 Class 3A State Title game

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