ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

State Football: Pioneers, St. Croix reunite for state semis

State football Who: St. Croix Lutheran Crusaders (11-0) vs. Pierz Pioneers (10-1) What: Class 3A state semifinals When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday Where: US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis While 112 miles separate Pierz High School from St. Croix Lutheran, the...

Pierz’s Ben Herold (26) returns a punt for a big gain while Jalen Jansen blocks against Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin in the Class 3A state quarterfinal at Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch
Pierz’s Ben Herold (26) returns a punt for a big gain while Jalen Jansen blocks against Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin in the Class 3A state quarterfinal at Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch

State football

Who: St. Croix Lutheran Crusaders (11-0) vs. Pierz Pioneers (10-1)

What: Class 3A state semifinals

When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

ADVERTISEMENT

While 112 miles separate Pierz High School from St. Croix Lutheran, the two football programs do share a past.

In 2005, Pierz eliminated the Crusaders in the Section 4-2A finals 69-20. The next year, St. Croix returned the favor with a 28-13 defeat of the Pioneers in the section final.

The teams will reunite 4:30 p.m. Saturday in the Class 3A state semifinals at the new US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The winner will play for a Prep Bowl title.

Both programs are two-time state champions. St. Croix won its titles in 2011 and 2013, while Pierz is the defending state champion and won its first state title in 2004.

This is the sixth straight state tournament for the Crusaders and the fourth straight for Pierz.

"I think they are similar," Crusaders head coach Carl Lemke said of the programs. "I think in the past when we played them, they highlighted a back and they ran I-formation and they ran a back that was just sensational. He was about 6-foot-2 with great speed (Bryan Virnig). He was a handful and then I think their passing game was a little stronger at that time, too.

"They play action well, but I don't think they have the same quality of receiver as they had in those days, but still it's similar in that they are just hard-nosed kids."

The top-ranked Crusaders deploy a balanced attack with Michael Stern leading the ground game with 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns on 148 carries. Daniel Rust has rushed for 733 yards and quarterback Isaac Tietz has rushed for 656 yards and 14 more scores. Tietz has thrown for 987 yards and 17 touchdowns with just one interception on 49-of-99 passing.

ADVERTISEMENT

"They pretty much run everything the same as they did back then, but they are much better," said Pierz head coach Leo Pohlkamp. "They've got a 6-4 receiver that's pretty good and they like to throw a lob type thing to him over the top. They run slants to him and he's pretty good. Then they have another receiver that's not too bad.

"But they still like to run the ball. They're a good running team. They run an inside trap very well. That's a concern of mine."

Tietz's top target is 6-foot-4 junior Garett Maag, who has 26 receptions for 650 yards and 13 touchdowns. Stephen Kletscher has nine catches for 190 yards and four scores.

"We are based on a split-back veer so we like to get our running game going," Lemke said. "We're similar with Pierz in that way. We all want to come from a running game and expand from there. We have to.

"We've been very fortunate this year to have that good receiver. Our quarterback has been successful in our passing game so that has kind of opened us up a little bit."

St. Croix averages 44.5 points a game, while allowing 17.1. It defeated Belle Plaine 32-21 in the state quarterfinal to set up Saturday's matchup.

"Have we seen a team like Pierz? No," said Lemke. "Most of our opponents have been a passing team with a couple of good athletes who like to run, not this blood and guts at Pierz.

"Pierz is very, very good. They come off the line offensively. Their backs run hard. They have great play action. Defensively, they're just tough kids and they come from this program that has just been traditionally great for years."

ADVERTISEMENT

Pierz dominated Greenway 34-0 in its state quarterfinal victory. The Pioneers are averaging 31.4 points a game and holding opponents to 14.6.

Lane Girtz is close to surpassing 1,000 rushing yards. The senior has 960 yards and 18 touchdowns on 196 carries. Brandon Ortman is averaging 9.1 yards per carry as he's totaled 684 yards on 75 carries. He's scored eight touchdowns. Fullback Carson Huls has come on of late. He's rushed for 214 yards and two scores on 49 carries.

Pierz's passing game struggled to connect against Greenway, but Preston Rocheleau is 39-of-87 passing for 657 yards and six touchdowns.

Ben Herold has 12 catches for 242 yards and three TDs. Matt Kummet has seven catches for 137 yards and two scores. Logan Lease also has seven catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.

"I watched other teams and we feel we can run the ball on them," said Pohlkamp. "Other teams on film have moved the ball at times, but not consistently. That's what we need to do. We'll take that four yards and 3.5 yards. Just keep the chains moving and hopefully pop a few and keep it away from them.

"We're going to do what we do best. We'll mix in the pass, but Preston is going to have to complete a few more passes than he did last week. We misfired on a few last week and then we dropped a pass I thought we should have made. We don't throw a lot, but when we do throw, we have to make it work."

Despite the snowy weather forecast, both teams will be playing in the comfy confines of US Bank Stadium. That alone was the Crusaders' goal.

"We lost to Jackson County last year in the quarterfinals and right after that game, and we had a lot of kids coming back, but our whole focus from that point has been, 'We want to get to the Bank,'" Lemke said. "Our goal was last Saturday-just getting to the Bank. Now, obviously we want to play well against Pierz and work our hardest, but that was our focus-to make it to the Bank.

"Now this is all just gravy. We want to win, but our kids are so excited about that. I just want them to stay excited and have fun."

Related Topics: PIERZ PIONEERS
Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
What To Read Next
The Central Lakes College Raiders hosted Rainy River Saturday, Feb. 4.
The Central Lakes College Raiders hosted Rainy River Saturday, Feb. 4.
The Central Lakes College Raiders hosted Hibbing Friday, Feb. 3.
The Central Lakes College Raiders hosted Gogebic Community College Friday, Feb. 3.