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'Jacks roll over Eskomos in opener

Cloquet's Jayden Schneberger tackles Esko's Tyler Peterson during the first quarter of Friday night's football game in Cloquet. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 3
Cloquet running back Aahsan Maigag escapes three Esko players on his way to a 28-yard touchdown run during Friday night's football game on Bromberg Field. Maigag rushed for three touchdowns in the game. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 3
Esko's Quinn Fischer catches a touchdown pass over the defense of Cloquet's Mitchell Gerlach during Friday night's football game. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal3 / 3

The Cloquet Lumberjacks football team served notice that they will be a force to reckon with this season, defeating the Esko Eskomos 55-20 at Cloquet's Rol Bromberg Field on Friday.

Cloquet rolled up 537 yards of total offense and used the one-two punch of a strong running game and an equally strong passing game to pick up the win in front of a packed house.

"I thought things went very well from our standpoint," said Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz. "We executed very well considering it was the first game of the year. There are always things to clean up, but overall we played good physical football."

While Cloquet was happy with the outcome, the Eskomos had a different view of how things went.

"Things did not go as well as I hoped," said Esko second-year coach Scott Arntson. "It was tough to stop the run-and-pass combination of Cloquet."

After gaining a couple of first downs on their first drive of the game, Esko stalled out and the 'Jacks took over in their own territory and completed the drive when Tim Pokornowski found Mitch Gerlach in the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown pass with 5:12 remaining in the first quarter. Eli Benson tacked on the extra point giving Cloquet a 7-0 lead and that's how things stood after the opening stanza.

Esko answered with a score of their own, on a Brendon Durand three-yard touchdown pass to Quinn Fischer, who caught the pass over the top of the outstretched hands of the defender. After the extra point kick by Cameron Osterling, the score was even at 7-7 with 10:41 to play in the second quarter.

Cloquet then took the game over by pounding the ball with the run game and adding a mix of passes that eventually resulted in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Pokornowski to Tyler Moose with 6:19 left in the half and, after the kick by Benson Cloquet was up 14-7. The 'Jacks then got the ball back off a turnover and added another score just a minute and 21 seconds later when running back Aahsan Maigag cut off right tackle and scampered 29 yards for a touchdown. Benson tacked on the extra point kick making it 21-7.

"We always want to establish the run game," explained Lenarz. "That is a focus for all through camp and all through the year. I just think you have to be able to run the ball at the end of the season to have success. You have to be able to win in bad weather and that means playing good defense and running the ball. The offensive line really punished Esko from start to finish, so I was happy with the effort up front."

Before halftime, more fireworks took place when Cloquet handed the ball off to Gerlach on an inside counter play and Gerlach squirted free on a 17-yard touchdown run, making it 27-7. However, Esko didn't take long to answer as Brandon Matteen scored on the ensuing kickoff by going 83 yards for a score, cutting into the lead and making it 27-13 at the intermission break.

"Brandon is a dynamic player," Arntson said. "He is someone we look for creative ways to get the ball to."

The Lumberjacks began to flex their muscle in the second half starting early in the third quarter as they relied on the backfield duo of Maigag and Spencer Wehr in rushing the football. Maigag finished the game with 124 yards rushing and Wehr added 97 yards on the ground. Gerlach chipped in with 63 rushing yards. For the game the 'Jacks rushed for 359 yards compared to 118 for Esko.

"I knew Cloquet was big and had a lot of strong players," Arnston remarked. "They were faster than I expected."

With 7:58 left in the third quarter the Lumberjacks made it 34-13 on a Pokornowski-to-Josh Bushey 10-yard touchdown pass and an Eli Benson extra point kick. Before the third quarter ended, the Lumberjacks pushed the lead to 41-13 when Maigag scooted for a 27-yard touchdown run and Benson added the extra point.

"Our goal this year is to find some more balance on offense," said Lenarz. "You can only do that in years where the line can block both well and you have some athletes on the outside who can make plays. We feel like we have that this year and maybe a little more depth at those positions than we typically have. Moose, Gerlach, Benson, Maigag, Bushey and Wehr can all catch and make people miss."

Cloquet opened the fourth quarter on another Maigag score, this time from six yards out. Benson added the extra point kick to make it 48-13 and to put the game into running time. Esko responded just moments after the kick off when Durand found Matteen on the right flat and Matteen bolted 71 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 48-20 with 6:54 to play in the fourth quarter.

"Esko has some good athletes and took advantage of a few mistakes we made over the course of the night," Lenarz said. "We had some trouble at the end of the game with substitutions and the long pass was probably more on us as coaches than on the kids. Having said that, the Esko kid (Matteen) made a tremendous catch and move, and beat the rest of the team to the end zone."

For the game, Esko's Durand passed for 167 yards, while Pokornowski tossed for 178 yards for Cloquet.

The Lumberjacks ended the scoring with 1:56 left in the game when Markus Pokornowski ran for a five-yard score making it 55-20 after the Benson extra point kick.

Cloquet will be back home again this Friday when they host Duluth Denfeld while Esko will hit the road again for the second straight game as they travel to Two Harbors to take on the Agates.