Cloquet advances to state football tournament

The tears that glossed over Cloquet football coach Tom Lenarz's eyes Friday night were well-earned. They were tears of joy. Lenarz's Lumberjacks used an unorthodox recipe to cook up their first trip to the state tournament in 26 years Friday at C...

Prep football
Kyle Klatt (8) of Cloquet runs past Brock Taylor (51) and Joey Flanagan (45) of Hermantown during Section 7AAAA championship game action in Hermantown Friday night, Nov. 1, 2013. Klatt broke away and scored his second touchdown of the game on the play. Cloquet defeated Hermantown 23-14 to advance to the state football tournament. (Clint Austin /

The tears that glossed over Cloquet football coach Tom Lenarz's eyes Friday night were well-earned.

They were tears of joy.

Lenarz's Lumberjacks used an unorthodox recipe to cook up their first trip to the state tournament in 26 years Friday at Corey Veech Memorial Field in Hermantown, where Cloquet received clutch performances from a pair of unheralded players, survived a trio of turnovers and received just 70 yards rushing combined from its two playmaking running backs.

All of that somehow led to a surprising 23-14 win for the Lumberjacks over the top-seeded Hawks in the Section 7AAAA championship game.

"It's unbelievable, I can't describe what it feels like," Lenarz said. "These kids have done everything we've asked of them, and it's just a fantastic thing to see them get rewarded for all that hard work. This has been a goal of theirs all along, so to see it come true is fantastic."


Cloquet's Maxx Brenner and Hermantown's Kole Zuidmulder traded first-quarter touchdown passes as both teams came out firing. What started as a fun, up-tempo affair quickly turned unpredictable in the second quarter.

Brenner found Dylan McIvor for a 14-yard gain on a fourth-and-10 play from the Hawks' 15. Jeffery Sarkela followed with his only carry of the night, a

1-yard dive that gave the Lumberjacks (9-1) a 13-6 lead. All was well, and the game continued along on its rather routine trajectory until three minutes were left in the opening half.

Zuidmulder started it off by throwing an incomplete pass on a fake punt. On the very next play, Brenner was intercepted by Paul Glowacki, who raced 45 yards for what appeared to be a game-tying TD. But an illegal block offset the lengthy return, and Hermantown (8-2) instead got the ball in Cloquet territory. On the Hawks' ensuing play, Brady Obeidzinski picked off Zuidmulder, putting the Lumberjack offense back on the field.

Seldom-used running back Kyle Klatt took the first handoff of the possession and zigzagged 64 yards for an improbable score that ignited the Cloquet faithful and made it 20-6.

"I saw a hole, (offensive tackle) Cody Hill made a good block and I just ran for it as fast as I could," said Klatt, who rushed six times for 119 yards and caught Brenner's early TD.

The Hawks hardly knew what hit them.

Hermantown coach Daryl Illikainen could only lament the missed opportunity on Glowacki's pick.


"Glowacki had three steps on everybody," Illikainen said. "We talked about when you have a situation like that, just turn and face the other way. There's no reason to block anybody. The kid hits another kid in the back, and there's a big swing, and they score on the next play."

The Lumberjacks padded their cushion with Nick Niemi's 20-yard field goal as the first-half gun sounded. Cloquet didn't score again, and didn't have to thanks to a defense that seemingly did the impossible: bottle up Hawks standout Zach Royer, who was held to just 99 yards rushing, well below his season average and well below the 166 yards he gained in the teams' regular-season meeting, a 21-15 Hawks win.

"We talked about it all week -- we have to tackle better," Lenarz said. "These crazy kids, they executed everything we asked them to execute."

Brenner completed 7 of 8 passes for 79 yards, while Cloquet's powerful 1-2 rushing punch of Austin Gotchnik and Henry Backus gained just 70 yards.

Klatt's heroics, and a defense that held Hermantown to less than 3 yards per rush, picked up the slack. Obeidzinski was a big part of that defense. The junior's second interception came late in the fourth quarter with the Lumberjacks clinging to a 23-14 lead.

Obeidzinski, like Klatt an unsung but vital cog, said the difference for Cloquet on Friday was the veteran team's early intensity.

"We didn't come out hard at all," Obeidzinski said of Cloquet's loss to Hermantown on Sept. 20. "They came out and smacked us right in the mouth, and we came out and we smacked them right in the mouth this time."

All that smacking has the Lumberjacks atop Section 7AAAA and headed to the state tournament, where they will take on Delano next Friday on the St. Cloud State campus.


Cloquet 7-16-0-0--23

Hermantown 6-0-8-0--14

C -- Kyle Klatt 14 pass from Maxx Brenner (Nick Niemi kick)

H -- Justin Brendon 13 pass from Kole Zuidmulder (kick failed)

C -- Jeffery Sarkela 1 run (kick failed)

C -- Klatt 64 run (Niemi kick)

C -- Niemi 20 field goal

H -- Paul Glowacki 46 pass from Zuidmulder (Cade Zacharias pass from Zuidmulder)


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