State prep football playoff preview: Tough task awaits Cloquet
Scouting the DeLaSalle High School football team is an exercise in mathematics as big numbers dot the Islanders' stat sheet. Quarterback Billy Hart, for example, has passed for 2,363 yards and 38 touchdowns. Hart's primary pass-catcher, Marquise ...
Scouting the DeLaSalle High School football team is an exercise in mathematics as big numbers dot the Islanders’ stat sheet.
Quarterback Billy Hart, for example, has passed for 2,363 yards and 38 touchdowns. Hart’s primary pass-catcher, Marquise Bridges, has 63 receptions for 1,242 yards and 19 TDs. And fellow receiver Isaac Hodge has hauled in 54 passes for 871 yards and 13 scores.
Lending balance to the offense is running back James King Jr. and his 945 rushing yards and 10 scores.
Lineman Drayton Carlberg boasts an equally impressive, albeit smaller, number. Carlberg has received more than 20 Division I scholarship offers. His suitors include Minnesota, California, Michigan State, North Carolina, Oregon and Vanderbilt.
DeLaSalle’s quarterfinal opponent for the Minnesota Class AAAA state tournament is respectful of all those numbers - but not overwhelmed.
Instead, Cloquet is embracing the challenge of facing a spread-it-out offense that scores more than 50 points per game.
“That’s one of the exciting things, I think, for me as a coach is I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet,” Lumberjacks coach Tom Lenarz said Wednesday. “Hopefully, (tonight) will give us an opportunity to do that.”
Cloquet (10-0) and DeLaSalle (9-1) meet at 7 p.m. today at Chisago Lakes High School in Lindstrom.
Philosophically, the Islanders are polar opposites from what qualifies as the offensive norm in the Northland. Working out of the shotgun, they go four- and five-wide almost every snap and let Hart go to work.
“They have athletes at almost all the positions on the field,” Cloquet running back-safety Zach Gerlach said.
It’s not as if Gerlach and his defensive backfield cohorts are lead-footed liabilities. No, Gerlach, Brady Obeidzinski, Kenny Henagin and Christian Pritchett can run a little, too. They will have to tonight against an opponent that averages nearly 500 yards of total offense an outing.
The Lumberjacks are in their second consecutive state tournament. Replacing so many of the key cogs responsible for last year’s run seemed downright daunting back in August. But Cloquet reloaded with the likes of Kyle Klatt (961 rushing yards, 19 TDs), Gerlach (510, 10) and Hunter Roberts (501, 11), and signal-caller Nate Weets, who has thrown for 879 yards and 10 TDs.
Weets has been intercepted just once.
In fact, that’s been a benchmark of these Lumberjacks - they don’t give the ball away. Cloquet is plus-27 in turnovers. Continuing that trend against a high-powered offense like DeLaSalle’s is critical.
“Against a team like that, which likes to run up and down the field and turn it into a track meet, if we’re giving them the ball a couple more times and giving them short fields to work with, I think it makes it almost impossible for us to win the game,” Lenarz said.
A 61-33 loss to Delano in last year’s state tournament gives the Lumberjacks an idea of what to expect once the bright lights beckon tonight. That game was close for the first half before Delano pulled away.
“It definitely shows you how good the rest of the teams are going to be down at state and the level of competitiveness,” Gerlach said. “If you don’t show up, you’re going to get beat.”
Nine-Man Cromwell’s Pfisthner running out of surprises
When Cromwell free safety Austin Pfisthner spied a deep pass coming his way near midfield in last week’s Nine-Man Section 5 final against Wrenshall, he never expected to have a play on the ball.
Pfisthner thought it would carry well out of his reach. Still, he laid out as the ball sailed over his left shoulder. Just before it hit the ground, Pfisthner, almost horizontal with the turf at Esko’s stadium, got his hands on it. And that’s all it took for the senior to corral his 24th career interception, which stunned just about everybody who witnessed the play - minus Pfisthner’s coach.
“That’s something that we see all the time. He’s got excellent hands,” Cardinals coach Jeff Gronner said. “If there’s a jump ball in the air, if he’s on offense or if he’s at safety, we’re surprised if he doesn’t come down with the catch.”
Pfisthner’s career tally ties him for sixth all-time in Minnesota prep football annals. And he’s tied with former Cardinal Cody Hendrickson, a Mr. Football finalist in 2007, for Cromwell’s career record.
Pfisthner has a chance to snag it outright tonight as the Cardinals (10-1) travel to Bemidji State University for a state tournament quarterfinal against Kittson County Central (8-2). Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Pfisthner has eight interceptions in each of the past three seasons. It’s hard to believe that any of the previous 23 were as acrobatic as the one against Wrenshall.
“I honestly didn’t think I was catching it at first,” said Pfisthner, who also holds the Cromwell school mark for career receptions - the tally is in the high 50s, Gronner says.
Pfisthner allows the Cardinals to be more aggressive on defense. They can stack the box against running teams knowing they have a security blanket capable of erasing a mistake. That will come in handy against a Kittson County Central team that sports workhorse back Carson Thorsteinson, who has carried the ball 257 times for 1,643 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Thorsteinson averages more than 25 carries a night for the Bearcats. Gronner compared him to Cromwell’s Tyler Hakamaki, saying both are physical, second-effort runners.
Hakamaki has rushed for 1,204 yards and 22 TDs, while QB Zion Smith has thrown for 1,143 yards and 16 TDs on 65-of-118 passing. The sophomore also has 501 rushing yards.
The Cardinals preserved a unique streak when they beat Wrenshall. Since 1988, every player who has been in the program for all four years of high school, has reached the state tournament.
Cromwell last advanced in 2010 when it turned a 4-4 regular-season record into a state title. The Cardinals are happy to be back.
“We did something that we’re used to doing, but we haven’t done in a while,” Gronner said. “And it’s just fun to still be playing football this time of year.”
Today's playoff games
Cloquet (10-0) vs. DeLaSalle (9-1)
What: Class AAAA state tournament quarterfinal
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Chisago Lakes High School, Lindstrom, Minn.
Radio: WKLK-AM 1230
Cromwell (10-1) vs. Kittson County Central (8-2)
What: Nine-Man state tournament quarterfinal
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bemidji State University
Radio: WKLK-FM 96.5