IF YOU GO
State Class AAAA Prep Bowl:
Cloquet vs. Academy of Holy Angels
4:00 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24
at U.S. Bank Stadium
Listen at WKLK 96.5 FM and WKLK-AM 1230 (simulcast)
MINNEAPOLIS—After calling Tim Pokornowski's number to run 30 times last Friday, Cloquet football coach Tom Lenarz chuckled when reminded that the senior is a quarterback.
"Not today," Lenarz said following the Lumberjacks' 40-21 Class AAAA state semifinal win over South St. Paul, a game in which the senior Pokornowski ran for a career-best 249 yards and a touchdown on the Minnesota Vikings' U.S Bank Stadium turf in Minneapolis.
"If I didn't think Timmy could handle that workload, we wouldn't have done that, but Timmy has been a warrior for us his entire career," Lenarz said about his play-making signal-caller. "It just goes to show he can do both when called upon."
Pokornowski, who has been offered a scholarship from Minnesota-Duluth and has interest from other Division II schools, ran for 179 yards in the first half to help lead the Lumberjacks to a 30-14 advantage at the break. Although seldom used last week, Pokornowski's right arm also found senior Aahsan Maigag on a 45-yard hookup that capped a 23-point second quarter after which Cloquet never looked back.
Instead, the Lumberjacks (12-0) are now looking at Academy of Holy Angels (11-1), their opponent in Friday's 4 p.m. Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank again, and the last hurdle in their magical football run.
In fact, Cloquet is playing in its first state championship game since 1976, when they lost to White Bear Lake 14-13. A win, however, would cement the Lumberjacks as the first team from Northeastern Minnesota to win a larger-school state football crown since 1973 when Eveleth won in Class A, the second largest classification at that time.
Maigag, one of 21 seniors on the team, is relishing the opportunity.
"This means the world, especially with this group of guys who I've grown up with," Maigag said. "I wouldn't want to go to war with anyone else, and that includes the coaches, too. They've been a big influence in my life. It's surreal."
Senior linebacker Jayden Schneberger, who caused a fumble and had a interception along with senior Josh Bushey last week, concurred.
"It honestly feels like a dream come true," said Schneberger. "It's an amazing feeling."
While Pokornowski was seemingly unstoppable last week, the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder was quick to praise his teammates in the trenches. The likes of senior classmates Dylan Lauer, Bryce Turnbull, Jordon Peil and junior Luke Konietzko cleared gaping running lanes all evening.
"The line created good holes, so I just hit them and ran hard," said Pokornowski in front of the Minnesota Vikings backdrop in the postgame press conference room. A Minnesota fan, Pokornowski also attended the Vikings game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
"They mauled us," added South St. Paul coach Chad Sexauer of the Cloquet linemen. "They just physically dominated the line up front. The quarterback is a good player. He runs hard and can be dynamic, but they've got a lot of guys in front who can create a lot of holes. They just flat-out physically dominated us up front."
That said, Sexauer was asked to predict Friday's title tilt. Along with losing to the Lumberjacks last week, his Packers (9-3) also fell to Holy Angels 18-7 on Sept. 8 at home.
"They're pretty alike in that both teams can run and throw the ball," said Sexauer, sitting next to his teary-eyed son and senior quarterback, Cade. "It's going to be a matter of who hurts themselves less, and who makes some plays. It's going to be a great Class 4A football game.
"I'm not putting money down in Vegas on that one," he continued. "I'm not going to even try to pick the winner."
Lenarz, now 77-70 in his 14th year at Cloquet, won a Prep Bowl title at Blaine, Minn., in 1988. Now back in the big game for the first time since, the coach is optimistic in his yet-to-be-beaten boys, the only undefeated team left in the tournament.
"They're good," said Lenarz of the opposing Stars, who ousted Winona 26-22 in their semifinal. "But I'd like to think that we're pretty good, too."
Surely new to all of this late-November football, Cloquet is riding this wave of success along with the support of a very excited and proud community.
In an live interview during last week's game, Cloquet High School assistant principal Steve Battaglia was wearing purple colors like hundreds of others also in attendance, noting the town was empty back up north.
According to the Cloquet Activities Twitter account, more than 300 T-shirts were sold in 24 hours last week. More were already purchased this week and tickets again are going like hot cakes.
Thus, expect more of the same this Friday when the small northern town plays for all of the marbles.
"I'll be honest with you, I was telling these guys as we were standing out there, I'm still a little numb," Lenarz said. "It's one of those things, where we've all been so focused on this for so long, to be here and to play as well as they did, I'm just so proud of these boys for how hard they played and how disciplined they were. I hope the community is proud of us. I think they are, and it's going to be exciting."
"Ever since we've been playing backyard football, we've dreamed of this," said Schneberger.