Catbird Seat: "Taking notice"So far it’s been a good fall for those who like teams that play football in purple.
So far it’s been a good fall for those who like teams that play football in purple.
Brett Favre’s brilliance aside, the Cloquet Lumberjacks are starting to attract some attention after defeating Hermantown 21-17 Friday night for their fourth win of the season.
The victory improved the local Purple to a still-unblemished 4-0 on the year, which means ranking groups are taking notice.
The national Web site www.maxpreps.com ranks the ‘Jacks 16th in Minnesota Class AAAA, while the Massey rankings on the national site www.highschoolsports.net place them 21st.
These sites use computer formula to generate their lists; in the maxpreps ratings, the ‘Jacks are placed one spot behind 1-3 Waconia. The heavily-computerized Massey ratings rank everything from offense to defense to strength of schedule to power rankings to come up with their numbers.
Perhaps more interestingly, Cloquet received votes in the weekly Associated Press poll, which is still done by human beings. Their first three wins were enough to place them 13th, and the victory over Hermantown will have done nothing to hurt them in that regard.
Not surprisingly, coach Tom Lenarz is rueful about all the attention.
“I haven’t even looked (at the rankings),” he said. “The bottom line is that it’s great in terms of the kids having earned some recognition, so it’s fun. I certainly don’t think it means anything. It sure won’t mean Ashland is going to [lie] down and die for us.”
Lenarz is hopeful the players won’t be distracted by the attention.
“As a coach you almost hate to see stuff like that (the rankings) because it can affect focus,” he said. “But I’m very impressed with this group of seniors. They get it, and they understand that rankings are on the outside. This is a tremendous group of kids to work with.”
The Lumberjacks have accomplished their goals through a balanced attack and the ability to run the ball with authority. RaRa Jones has rushed for 336 yards, but he’s done it on just 25 carries, giving him an impressive average of 13.44 yards per carry. Considering he is also a dynamic receiver who scored the only touchdown of the game in the season-opening 7-0 win over Duluth East, teams must account for him in a special way.
However, if they shut down Jones, teams still must account for Anthony Hudson and Tim Defoe. Hudson has run for 351 yards on 50 carries for a 6.62-yard average and Defoe has added 140 yards on 16 carries for an 8.75-yard average. Combined, the three have already rolled up 827 yards, averaging over 200 yards on the ground per contest. More impressively, and in a fine tribute to the offensive line, Jones, Hudson and Defoe average just over nine yards each time any of them handles the ball.
“I’m particularly happy with Hudson,” Lenarz said. “He’s a kid who has done everything we’ve asked him to do, played different positions, and has worked very, very hard for us.”
When two handoffs average a first down, you won’t lose many games at this level and since coach Tom Lenarz has spread the ball to other backs in addition to his “big three,” Cloquet’s rushing attack is fearsome.
Quarterback Tyler Tollerud has been capable when called on as well. He’s hit on 15 of 34 attempts but is 12 for 23 after the East game. He’s thrown for 190 yards and four scores, giving the ‘Jacks another way to move the ball.
Yet, in the wins so far, the ground game is what’s gotten the job done. That’s not surprising in Northern Minnesota, but the two quality wins out of the four so far have established the ‘Jacks as a top team not only in the region, but statewide in its class.
“We have, from the time we started coaching as a staff, always knew that in Northeastern Minnesota you have to be able to run the ball,” Lenarz said. “We took our lumps early but we have now established that culture. The players now go out knowing we want to establish a presence on both sides of the line.”
Three of the final four regular-season games are against perennial powers, so the run-in to the section playoffs should be interesting. Friday’s game against Ashland pits the ‘Jacks against a Wisconsin school that has always had a proud program.
Following Friday’s contest, Eveleth-Gilbert awaits on the road before an anticipated showdown against Proctor on Oct. 14 at Terry Egerdahl Field. Cloquet then finishes its regular season against another longtime power, International Falls, but gets to stay home and let the Broncos take the long bus ride.
The talk around town in recent weeks has been about Brett Favre and the big boys down south who wear purple. Clearly, though, the right strides have been taken in Cloquet for the kids who wear purple to hopefully attract just as much attention.