State Football: Pierz to face another third-ranked team in state semis

It will be another third-ranked team for the Pierz Pioneers. After eliminating third-ranked Albany in the Class 3A state quarterfinals Saturday, the top-ranked and unbeaten Pioneers will face the Tri-City United Titans, who were tied with Albany ...

It will be another third-ranked team for the Pierz Pioneers.

After eliminating third-ranked Albany in the Class 3A state quarterfinals Saturday, the top-ranked and unbeaten Pioneers will face the Tri-City United Titans, who were tied with Albany as the No. 3-ranked team in the state in the final Associated Press poll.

Unlike Albany, which Pierz eliminated 9-0 in the state quarterfinals, this is TCU's first trip to the state tournament and will be its first state semifinal when the game kicks off 7 p.m. Friday at Park High School in Brooklyn Park. The cooperative between Montgomery, Lonsdale and Le Center has been together for four successful seasons.


State football


What: Class 3A state semifinals

Who: Top-ranked Pierz Pioneers (11-0) vs. Tri-City United Titans (10-1)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Park Center High School, Brooklyn Park


"It's gone pretty well for us," said Tri-City United head coach Ken Helland. "The very first year we did play in the section championship and lost to Blue Earth, who went on to win the state championship. Since we consolidated we've always been 3A. Before the consolidation I was the head coach at Le Center for 12 years and now four years at TCU."

The Titans enter Friday's game with a 9-1 record after beating Belle Plaine 41-24 in the quarterfinal round. That was a rematch of a regular-season game in which TCU won 25-13. The Titans' lone loss was to Marshall (34-0), which advanced to the Class 4A state tournament. In that loss, Helland said his team was down five starters, including the quarterback and two starting offensive tackles.

TCU battled back from a 12-0 deficit to beat Plainview-Elgin-Millville in the Section 1-3A championship. It also rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the state quarterfinal.


"We've got 22 seniors on the team and they've been our leaders," said Helland. "Unless we have a guy hurt, we normally start 11 seniors on offense and nine on defense.

"We've had senior leadership. We were right in some games last year where we finished 7-3. We lost by two points to Plainview in the section semifinals last year. Our other two losses, we lost by six on the last play of the game and we lost another game by three. So we were really close to winning a lot of games last year with these guys as juniors. I think they've learned from that and they are very determined to do well this year.

"Talking about getting behind, we're a pretty resilient group. We've handled adversity really well all year long when things haven't gone our way. We just keep playing and nobody panics. Fortunately for us, when we got behind the last two weeks it was early. It was right away in the first quarter. So we had time to battle back. We didn't have to panic and score all at once."

Scoring was in issue for the Pioneers against Albany. With starting quarterback Aaron Weber out with an ankle injury, Pierz scored a season-low nine points. Even with that, the Pioneers are still averaging the third-most points per game for Class 3A teams with 39.7. TCU averages 33.1 points per game and is holding opponents to 10.0.

"It looks to us that they like to run the football and they're very good at it," Helland said of Pierz. "They certainly can mix in the pass, but our biggest concern, at least from what we've seen on film, is we have to handle their running game so they don't run all over us. For the most part, we've done pretty well with that this year. But we haven't faced the kind of running game that they present either. They do some things that will give us some trouble so we'll have to find a way to slow them down. I don't know if we're going to stop them, but we have to slow them down a little bit."

Pierz's defense averages a Class 3A low 7.7 points per game. And Helland said as of Tuesday he still can't figure out where to attack the Pioneers' defense.

"On film, just watching them, they look really aggressive," said Helland. "They have some hitters on that team. It's hard to tell on film just where the best place might be to attack them. So I imagine there will be a little feeling-out period for us offensively. Hopefully we can figure something out. We do have multiple formations and multiple plays from each formation we can run. To be honest, we're not quite sure yet how we're going to attack them."

Senior running-back Aaron Chimal surpassed 1,000 yards for the second straight year. The 5-foot-7, 166-pound back has 1,220 yards and 13 touchdowns on 200 carries. Senior Michael McCrady has 469 yards and nine TDs and senior Sam Ehlers has 308 yards and two TDs on 70 carries.


Senior quarterback Trevor Smisek has thrown for 832 yards and 10 TDs on 49-of-95 passing. He has been picked off six times.

"He can beat you with his arm," Helland said of Smisek. "He's got a good, strong arm. He can throw the deep ball pretty well and he's pretty accurate. He also has good speed. At times, when we needed him to, he's been able to run the ball pretty well."

Smisek's top targets have been Jackson Feddema, who has 33 catches for 542 yards and 7 TDs. Carter Rynda has 22 catches for 409 yards and 4 scores.

"They are monsters," said Pierz head coach Leo Pohlkamp. "I have two big tackles that are around 295 pounds, but they have five kids around 300 pounds. They have some big linemen. I haven't looked at how many go both ways, but they have some size.

"The quarterback is a good athlete. He's probably the fastest player on their team. He's left-handed and throws the ball pretty well. Plus, he punts for them and I saw one game where they ran three punt fakes so we may not be returning any punts."

Pierz still has not allowed a first-quarter touchdown all season and has only given up 18 points in the fourth. That may be important if TCU is in come-from-behind mode.

"Defensively, their middle linebacker is their best player," Pohlkamp said. "He's got a lot of tackles. It's really hard to know because every team looks different on film. They're big, but they may not be as quick as Albany was. But they are big and they occupy a lot of space in the gaps and let their linebackers clean up. We'll have our work cut out for us again.

"I don't know the status of Aaron Weber. We have to prepare as though we won't have him."


If Weber plays, he brings with him 799 yards passing with 10 TDs and only one interception. Michael Meyer leads the Pioneers with 12 receptions for 281 yards and four scores. Nick Herold has eight catches for 155 yards and Kolton Eischens has seven grabs for 207 yards and three scores.

If Weber can't go, look for a heavy dose of the three-headed monster that is Pierz's running game. Lane Girtz has 820 yards and 13 TDs. Jonny Kasper has rushed for 809 yards and 10 scores. Noah Boser has 444 yards and 12 TDs. Boser will also run Pierz's wildcat formation.

The goal for Pierz will to be to make sure the game doesn't hinge on a final play like it did during last year's state semifinal, where Pierz lost to eventual state champion Rochester Lourdes on an overtime two-point conversion that looked to be stopped but was successful and ultimately cost the Pioneers the game.

"We have to outwork and outprepare TCU this week because we do not want it to come down to another fluke play like last year," Pohlkamp said. "If we work hard, hopefully it won't come down to that type of a play again."

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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