State Football: Two small schools hoping for big things
Two of the smallest Class 3A teams will battle for the biggest prize 1 p.m. Saturday. No. 9-ranked Jackson County Central, which just moved back to Class 3A this season, will face No. 1-ranked Pierz at TCF Bank Stadium for the Class 3A state cham...
Two of the smallest Class 3A teams will battle for the biggest prize 1 p.m. Saturday.
No. 9-ranked Jackson County Central, which just moved back to Class 3A this season, will face No. 1-ranked Pierz at TCF Bank Stadium for the Class 3A state championship.
It will be the second state title for whichever team wins. JCC won its state title in 2001 (Jackson won the 1985 Class B title). Pierz captured its lone state title in 2004.
What: Class 3A state football championship
Who: No. 1-ranked Pierz Pioneers (12-0) vs No. 9-ranked Jackson County Central Huskies (10-2)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Television: KSTC-TV, Channel 45
Of the eight teams in the 3A tournament, Pierz and JCC are the two smallest in enrollment. The Huskies have an enrollment of 327 with Pierz sitting at 325. Albany, which lost to Pierz in the state quarterfinals, has an enrollment of 488. Pierz bumped up to 3A three years ago and has advanced to the state tournament each of those years.
"We have a special group of athletes right now," said Pierz head coach Leo Pohlkamp. "We have 15 seniors and those guys gobble up most of the playing time. We have Lane Girtz and Matt Kummet, who are juniors, but we're a pretty heavy senior team. You need a great class like that. It's easy for Albany and other bigger schools to simply reload because they have so much more enrollment to choose from."
JCC was at a disadvantage after Week Two because of a lack of numbers, but since then has been crushing opponents. After opening with two straight losses, JCC's closest margin of victory came during last week's other semifinal, where JCC upset No. 2-ranked Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 30-14. In their 10-straight wins, the Huskies beat then ranked Luverne 57-7, Martin County West 69-6, Redwood Valley 49-7 and St. James 67-3.
"The first two losses were a product of nine kids ineligible the first game and the second game we were missing three out of our four top skill guys," said JCC head coach Tom Schuller. "Two for various suspensions and one for (showing) a sheep at the state fair.
"The biggest thing about it, with all those kids ineligible forced us to increase our depth. Obviously, a lot of people had to step in. The kids that got in there played reasonably well. We lost to Maple River, who was in the section final, on the road on a field goal with 20 seconds left. There was a lot of sets we couldn't even get in because we were down so many running backs. The positive with that was we got a lot of kids playing and they're helping us right now."
JCC is outscoring opponents 44.8 to 13.8 despite losing its top receiver in the Section 3-3A final.
Senior running backs Keegan Moore and Avery Henderson are the focal point of the Huskies' offense.
Moore, who just signed to wrestle at Oklahoma State next season, rushed for 1,588 yards and 27 touchdowns on 189 carries. He holds the school rushing record with 4,496 career yards. He also owns the career touchdowns record with 63, single-season rushing touchdowns record with 27 and single-game rushing yards record at 289.
Moore has rushed for at least 1,377 yards the last three seasons. He's also a two-time state wrestling champion.
"Offensively, we'll probably never approach these numbers again," said Schuller. "We have two phenomenal running backs. Keegan is a special athlete that comes around once in a while. I wish it was all the time, but it's not. Avery Henderson, the other back, and they alternate between playing fullback and tailback, has gotten a ton of yards. They are two very good running backs and obviously the strength of our team. And our offensive line has done a great job of opening holes."
Henderson is a 5-foot-9, 180-pound back, who has 982 yards and 14 touchdowns on 128 carries. JCC has outgained its opponents 422 to 221.9 per game. 3,739 of those yards are from rushing.
The air attack accounts for 1,325 yards, with 1,186 of those coming from Easton Bahr. The junior QB has 15 touchdowns to seven interceptions on 58-of-99 passing.
His top targets are senior Ryan Salzwedel, who has 25 catches for 509 yards and seven scores, and junior tight end Chris Gumto who has four TDs and 286 yards on 13 catches.
"The interior of Dilworth wasn't very big and Jackson really pounded them there and exploited that," said Pierz head coach Leo Pohlkamp. "They've got two really good running backs and both have gone over 1,000 yards. They get a lot of yards after contact. A lot of yards. We have to tackle well. We have to fill the lanes and not let these backs get started.
"They run a little bone, but their main offense is out of the I-formation. They pound the ball and finish their runs well. They're not burners, but they do get a lot of yards pounding the ball."
The question for Pierz's offense will be health. Junior quarterback Aaron Weber played much of the first half in last week's 29-6 semifinal victory over Tri-City United before reinjuring his ankle. Backup quarterback Preston Rocheleau was also hurt in the second half forcing Pierz to use senior fullback Noah Boser in the wildcat formation. As of Tuesday, Pierz did not have a fourth quarterback.
Weber's presence gives Pierz more options, but the Pioneers added a few wrinkles to their offense with Nick Herold last week.
"I believe we'll get Aaron back," said Pohlkamp. "He came in and threw a touchdown pass on one foot so by the time Saturday rolls around we'll be able to start him. I don't know how long he'll last with that ankle. I don't know about Preston, our backup, but Noah will get a lot of reps in practice. Last week, when Noah was out there and Aaron was hurt and Preston was hurt, we had no idea who our fourth-string quarterback was going to be. Usually you don't have to worry about that."
A healthy quarterback situation for Pierz will also free up Lane Girtz and Jonny Kasper. Girtz has 919 yards and 14 touchdowns on 139 carries. Kasper has 841 yards and 10 TDs and Boser has rushed for 479 yards and 13 scores.
Weber has thrown for 894 yards and 12 touchdowns, including a TD strike on his only second-half appearance last week
"It's a very interesting matchup," said Schuller. "Two very high-scoring teams. I think Pierz is also an elite defensive team. We haven't punted for two games and at the state level that's pretty unbelievable. And I know Pierz's punter isn't real sore either. Something has to give. I think it's the two best teams in the finals.
"We did turn the ball over three times last week and we can't do that against Pierz because they are two touchdowns better than anyone we've faced - possibly three touchdowns."
The Pioneers still have not allowed a first-quarter touchdown and are outscoring opponents 38.8 to 7.7.
One reason for that, according to Schuller, is senior David Skiba.
"The immovable wall of their defensive front is what makes them so good," said Schuller. "No. 75 (Skiba) is the best lineman I've seen on tape. Tri-City has a guy that was getting Division I looks and he was not a factor in that game. No. 75 is an elite player up front."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop .