Prep football: Quick strikes lead Cloquet past Duluth East
Normally when a team runs only one offensive play in a quarter, its prospects for winning aren’t very bright.
But even though Duluth East ran off the first 17 plays and held the ball for 11-and-a-half minutes to start the third quarter Wednesday night at Ordean Stadium, Cloquet’s lead expanded from 13 to 27 points.
Kickoff and interception returns for touchdowns kept the Lumberjacks’ offense off the field and provided plenty of cushion in Cloquet’s 34-19 victory over the Greyhounds in a regular-season high school football finale.
Cole Ketola found a seam in East’s kickoff coverage and returned the second-half kick 82 yards for a touchdown and a 26-7 lead.
“We’ve been close several times before, but I think that’s our first kickoff return for a touchdown in a couple years,” Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz said. “Cole’s been great for us all year, really been a spark plug on offense and special teams.”
Two plays later, Cal Pertler picked off Caden Edwards and ran back the interception 36 yards for a 34-7 advantage to clinch the Northeast Red District title.
“The score was getting away from us and our defense didn’t even give up a touchdown in the second half,” East coach Joe Hietala lamented. “That’s how the game goes sometimes. They made a nice return on the kickoff to open the second half and they got the turnover that bounced off (Pertler’s) hand.”
Cloquet took full advantage of injuries on the East sideline, which resembled a M*A*S*H unit by game’s end.
The Greyhounds were without leading rusher Derek Daniels (suspension), second-leading rusher and defensive stalwart Elijah Leonard (broken leg a week ago) and wide receiver DeKarri Davis (out several weeks with a torn medial collateral ligament) going into the game, and lost Division II offensive line recruit Blake Wiseman (knee) during the game.
“It’s that unfortunate part of football,” Hietala said. “I think most teams deal with injuries, but I sure feel like the past couple weeks we’ve dealt with more than our fair share.”
Cloquet (7-1), which will be seeded No. 1 when the Section 7AAAA pairings come out Thursday, knows about injuries as well.
Running back Markus Pokornowski, who led the Lumberjacks with 127 yards rushing on 13 carries Wednesday, broke the scaphoid bone in his left hand three days before the season opener. Pokornowski missed one game and didn’t play offense in another game but has barely missed a beat playing with a big club-like cast, running for close to 900 yards this season.
“When you lose a guy you built things around, that’s hard to overcome,” Lenarz said.
Pokornowski said he might get the cast off in two weeks, which would be in time for the section title game.
“It’s the slowest-healing bone in the body,” he said. “But I’ve gotten used to it. I use my body more than my arms.”
He used his legs to pile up 53 yards on Cloquet’s opening drive, scoring from 4 yards out after the Greyhounds (5-3) had gone 52 yards in eight plays to score on a Caden Edwards-to-Jaxon Edwards tipped pass on fourth-and-goal.
Ketola gained 60 yards on two carries on Cloquet’s next possession, scoring from 25 yards out, before Pokornowski broke off a 50-yard touchdown 4:57 before halftime for a 20-7 lead.
After intermission, Ketola tore through East’s kickoff coverage to begin the unusual events of the next 12 minutes.
“That was a big spark,” Pokornowski said.
Caden Edwards and Jacob Wendinger teamed for two touchdown passes in the final 6:25 of the game, but minus their top two rushers the Greyhounds could only manage 17 net rushing yards as Edwards was sacked seven times. Cloquet intercepted two Edwards passes.
“We played complete football tonight.” Lenarz surmised. “I thought our intensity was really good. My kids were fired up to meet that challenge and they went out and took care of business.”
Prior to kickoff, both teams observed a moment of silence for Esko’s 15-year-old Jackson Pfister, who collapsed on the field last Friday in Aitkin and died shortly afterward of congenital heart disease.
Duluth East 7-0-0-12—19
DE — Jaxon Edwards 5 pass from Caden Edwards (Tanek Kittilson kick)
C — Markus Pokornowski 4 run (Pokornowski kick)
C — Cole Ketola 25 run (Pokornowski kick)
C — Pokornowski 50 run (kick failed)
C — Ketola 82 run (run failed)
C — Cal Pertler 36 interception return (Pokornowski run)
DE — Jakob Wendinger 51 pass from C. Edwards (kick blocked)
DE — Wendinger 15 pass from C. Edwards (pass failed)