Cloquet, Niemi boot Hermantown in section final
In an area of the country where high school football coaches often shun kicking extra points due to their unpredictability, Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz showed no hesitation Friday night in sending Nick Niemi out for a field goal attempt in the Secti...
In an area of the country where high school football coaches often shun kicking extra points due to their unpredictability, Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz showed no hesitation Friday night in sending Nick Niemi out for a field goal attempt in the Section 7AAAA championship game vs. Hermantown.
A 40-yard field goal attempt.
Niemi’s kick snuck over the crossbar by about a yard to break a 21-all tie in the third quarter and the Lumberjacks’ defense took over from there to hang on for a 24-21 victory and earn a second consecutive state tournament berth.
“We spend a lot of time on special teams, probably more than most teams,” Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz said. “He’s kicked longer ones with regularity in practice so we were confident. It didn’t clear it by much, but he cleared it.”
Top-seeded Cloquet (10-0) will face DeLaSalle (9-1), a 70-33 winner over Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the Section 6AAAA final, in a Class AAAA quarterfinal at 7 p.m. next Friday in Lindstrom, Minn.
After Cloquet’s second drive of the third quarter began to bog down, Lenarz and the coaching staff called Niemi, a tight end, over to the sideline to put on his old-school, Fred Cox-like square-toe kicking shoe.
“We felt like we were going to kick a field goal there if it was in that 40-to-43-yard range,” Lenarz said.
It turned out to be a career-long 40-yarder.
“I knew I had enough in it, but I didn’t know at first if I was going to sneak it in there or not,” Niemi said. “As it got closer and closer, I knew it was going to go in. Barely.”
The second-seeded Hawks (8-2) still had their chances, but the Lumberjacks forced a three-and-out, a four-play drive and Mason Brenner recovered his second fumble at the Cloquet 36 with 5:33 to play.
“I thought that was key,” Hawks coach Daryl Illikainen said of the turnover. “Even if we didn’t make that first down, we would still have had fourth down. You can’t make those kind of mistakes against a good team. It was too many mistakes to win a championship.”
Hermantown appeared to have momentum on a couple of occasions before Cloquet snatched it right back. A 12-play scoring drive, capped by Kole Zuidmulder’s 13-yard pass to Zack Brendon, tied the game at 7 before Kyle Klatt raced the ensuing kickoff back 87 yards on the final play of the first quarter for a 14-7 lead.
The Hawks tied the game again on Zuidmulder’s sneaky 19-yard pass to Thomas Madison, a junior running back who had lined up as an end in a double-wing formation. Madison, who led his team with 123 yards rushing on 17 carries, then ran back an interception 100 yards on the final play of the first half for a 21-14 lead.
“They had some momentum going into halftime,” said Lenarz, whose team trailed 21-7 at halftime before rallying to beat Hermantown 35-28 earlier this season. “We said, ‘The good news is that we’re one touchdown closer (than the first meeting) and we get the ball (to start the second half). Let’s go down and score.’ ”
That’s what the Lumberjacks did, taking only five plays to go 57 yards and tying the game on Klatt’s 1-yard run and Niemi’s extra point.
“We stayed calm and didn’t yell at anyone,” Niemi said of the locker room at halftime. “We stuck together and came out (in the second half) and played as a team. That first drive was crucial for us to tie the game.”
Niemi broke the tie on the next drive to keep the Lumberjacks’ season going.
“That was scary,” said Klatt, who led Cloquet with 125 yards on 22 attempts. “We saw him once kick a 55-yarder in practice. We knew he had the leg, it was just a matter if it was going to make it through. That was amazing.”
C - Nate Weets 2 run (Nick Niemi kick)
H - Zack Brendon 13 pass from Kole Zuidmulder (Cody McShane kick)
C - Kyle Klatt 87 kickoff return (Niemi kick)
H - Thomas Madison 19 pass from Zuidmulder (McShane kick)
H - Madison 100 kickoff return (McShane kick)
C - Klatt 1 run (Niemi kick)
C - Niemi 40 field goal