Late heroics lift Lumberjacks in season opener
Tyler Tollerud's reaction told the story. The Cloquet senior quarterback made the pass of his young life when he hit RaRa Jones for a 23-yard touchdown with 35.3 seconds left to give the Lumberjacks a 7-0 victory over Duluth East in a high school...
Tyler Tollerud's reaction told the story.
The Cloquet senior quarterback made the pass of his young life when he hit RaRa Jones for a 23-yard touchdown with 35.3 seconds left to give the Lumberjacks a 7-0 victory over Duluth East in a high school football season opener Friday night at Bromberg Field.
"When it came down to the end, we just threw it up to our main player, and he came down with it," said Tollerud, who was only 4-for-12 for 60 yards but threw a perfect spiral to Jones on third-and-7. "I threw that touchdown and started crying because it felt that good. It felt like I accomplished the best thing in my life."
East defeated Cloquet twice last season, including 35-0 in the Section 7AAAA final, but the offensive unit showed its lack of experience on a windless night engulfed by the light of a full moon.
"We played well in streaks on offense, but we lacked that killer instinct of getting the ball in the end zone," East coach Joe Hietala said. "That's something that's going to come with a little more experience."
The Greyhounds' defense carried its shutout streak to seven quarters against the Lumberjacks, but the offense turned the ball over twice in the third quarter and failed to convert on key downs. Henry Roningen's 23-yard field goal went wide right with 8:25 left in the fourth quarter.
"When the game was winding down, it had the feel that it was going to end just like that with one of the teams making a big play," Hietala said.
But unlike last season's undefeated run through regular season and section play, this time it wasn't East that made the big play.
A poor East punt gave the Lumberjacks excellent field position at the East 40 with 2:38 left, and Jones came through against double coverage.
"I knew it was my opportunity," said Jones, who also rushed for 75 yards on nine carries. "I just focused on bringing the ball in, didn't worry about anything else."
Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz said it made sense to keep the ball in his playmaker's hands.
"They had been giving us all sorts of room on the outside, but they put so much pressure on us that we tried to go over the top and tell RaRa to make the big play," Lenarz said of Cloquet's first win in the series since the 1990s.
When Lenarz took over the team, football was a sport to pass time until hockey season. The Lumberjacks barely averaged a win a year for the first half of this decade. Now after last year's 6-4 winning season and a good start this year, hockey can wait.
"Obviously it's big," Lenarz said. "We've been taking steps forward each year, and this is one of those steps. It was probably a bigger step mentally. They knew they were playing well enough to compete but weren't over the hump. Maybe this puts us over the hump."
Duluth East 0-0-0-0--0
C -- RaRa Jones 23 pass from Tyler Tollerud (Thomas Rogers kick)