CLOQUET FOOTBALL: 'I think they could win the whole thing'
One could argue that Cloquet running back Spencer Wehr was the luckiest player on the field during the Lumberjacks' 46-26 triumph over North Branch in the Section 7AAAA championship game.
"He picked the plays to be on the field where he got to score all the touchdowns," Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz said with a smile. "I had no idea he did that until after the game and he didn't know it, either. We had never even considered that. We knew we wanted to run the ball and felt we could control the line of scrimmage, but the plays we like to run in certain situations all went to Spencer and he scored."
On all of them.
Wehr had a night to remember against the Vikings, who would rather forget the carnage. The physical senior running back piled up 221 rushing yards on 34 carries and scored seven touchdowns as the 'Jacks sewed up their fourth state tournament appearance in the last five years.
"I didn't know how many I had until they told me," said Wehr, whose final trip to the end zone came on an 18-yard pass from Tim Pokornowski late in the fourth quarter. "I just kept on going — keep running and find a hole."
And when Wehr couldn't find a hole, he made one.
After spotting North Branch an early 6-0 lead, the 'Jacks roared back behind Wehr, who scored on runs of 6, 4, 13, 3, 12 and 3 yards before catching an 18-yard scoring pass from Tim Pokornowski in the fourth quarter to close the scoring.
"He certainly did his part," Lenarz said. "The line was opening up holes, but he could carry two or three tacklers. We think of him as a power back."
Wehr, who checks in at more than 200 pounds, isn't the prototypical high school fullback.
"He's a big, strong kid," Lenarz said, "but people don't see how strong he is because he's so tall. He doesn't have that block-like physique that you associate with fullbacks."
Wehr's excellence allowed the 'Jacks to survive 271 all-purpose yards from Viking quarterback Aaron Robillard, including 131 yards on the ground.
Yet the seven touchdowns are highly atypical of Lenarz's teams, which like to spread the ball.
"Two weeks ago, Spencer had four carries," Lenarz said. "It's whatever we need to do to get a win, and against North Branch, that was Spencer."
The win vaults Cloquet into the state quarterfinals against Becker (7-4) at St. Cloud State University on Friday night. The Bulldogs lost four of five games in the middle of their regular season before catching fire with section tournament wins over Princeton, Delano and Big Lake.
Becker scored 115 points in the playoffs, but allowed 54 in the process. For the season, Becker has allowed 226 points — high for a state tournament entrant.
"Becker is big and they are physical — bigger than we are," Lenarz said. "But I don't worry about the physicality of our team since that's the way we've played all season. Becker has a good quarterback and they can move the football."
At this point in the season, it's all about focus for Lenarz, whose teams have fallen at the state quarterfinal hurdle in the past.
"Right now, it's all about the next game," he said. "They are still boys and they need to focus."
University of Minnesota Duluth coach Curt Wiese likes to say that if his team can't focus at this time of year, it's not a playoff team.
"That's probably accurate," he said. "Some of the teams I've coached were more in need of guidance that way, but this group has been very focused for a high school football team. It's a very driven group. We haven't had to do much to keep them focused."
Part of that focus is a definite sense of unfinished business.
"There is a sense of that," Lenarz admitted. "We aren't just satisfied just making it to state. That was the players' message to me. With all of my teams I throw that out there to consider: 'Are you happy with just making it?' We made it to state and we want to win this next game."
The goal, of course, is to get to U.S. Bank Stadium and play in the big house.
"To get there, the players have to understand there is a difference in how they approach practice and work," Lenarz said. "They (the players) have been very clear that they want to play at the Bank and advance in the tournament.
"I won't speak for the kids, but we expect to move on every time we play in this game," Lenarz added. "There's going to be a sense of disappointment if we don't. That doesn't take away from a great season, but the district and section championships are all things to celebrate later."
But no matter Friday's result, Lenarz and his staff can spend the off-season admiring what they've built, which is one of the Northland's elite programs.
"It is the thing we were trying to build," he said. "It's gratifying but some people misconstrue that since what gratifies me might not be gratifying to others. Winning is better than losing, but what is fun for me is having my assistant coaches who have been with me through the bad times and helped build this, to be there to share in it.
"It's gratifying not just to win games but because of the pride everyone takes in the program," he said. "I love Cloquet. It's my home, and I want people to be proud of the team we put on the field. I think people aren't afraid to wear a Cloquet football sweatshirt or hat. Those are fun things for me."
So, how far can Cloquet go?
"It's one of those things where I think they could win the whole thing," Lenarz said. "I have every confidence in them. We have some talented kids on offense and good team speed, and we are big enough to compete. There are eight teams left and we will line up against anyone they want to throw at us."
Forum News Service reporter Louis St. George contributed to this story.
IF YOU GO
State Class AAAA Quarterfinals:
Cloquet vs. Becker
8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10
at St. Cloud State University
Listen at WKLK-AM 1230