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No worries - Resilient 'Jacks hand Hawks homecoming defeat

Cloquet quarterback Tim Pokornowski, a junior, makes another deep throw late in the game Friday in Hermantown. The Lumberjacks downed the Hawks 27-16. Matthew Moses/ 1 / 3
Cloquet junior Joshua Bushey sidesteps the tackle attempt by Hermantown's Elliott Peterson en route to a 33-yard touchdown Friday. Matthew Moses/ 2 / 3
Hermantown's TJ Gamradt tries to get rid of the ball before Cloquet junior Bryce Turnbull gets the sack. Matthew Moses/ 3 / 3

Few things in high school football are more fun than ruining another team’s homecoming — and when that team also happens to be the fourth-ranked team in the state in its class, the road win is double-plus good.

The Cloquet Lumberjacks had that feeling in a 27-16 win over Hermantown Friday night, knocking the Hawks from the ranks of the unbeaten, raising their record to 4-1, and winning for the second straight time on Hermantown’s field.

“The best thing about it is that for high school kids, whether you are home or away isn’t a big a deal as it otherwise might be,” Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz said. “But these kids don’t quit.”

That was a good thing, since there were several points in the game where a lesser team might have. Cloquet’s first possession of the night conked out on downs on the Hermantown 10-yard line, and the Hawks proceeded to drive the field to paydirt on Jake Hausmann’s 6-yard second-quarter burst.

“Hermantown plays well at home, it was homecoming and they had lots of energy,” Lenarz said. “Something bad is going to happen at some point and we have to be able to respond to that. Planning for it helps.”

And wow, did they respond — through the air. That in itself was surprising since Cloquet averages 344 yards per game on the ground, but junior Tim Pokornowski was a comparative gunslinger on the night.

The Cloquet quarterback completed 10 of 16 attempts for 211 yards — and a 33-yard second-quarter touchdown strike to Joshua Bushey to get the game tied at 8-8.

“Because we focus on running the football, we see teams play with five or six on the line and eight or nine in the box,” Lenarz said. “With the skill guys we have this season, we like some of the matchups we get. We needed to get to the point in the season where we were comfortable with the quarterback making some of those plays and he did.”

Late in the half Cloquet forced a Hawks punt and, after a personal foul penalty on Hermantown kept their drive alive, took a 14-8 lead on a 1-yard plunge by Spencer Wehr just as time expired in the first half.

Cloquet avoided a second potential pitfall when a 54-yard touchdown run by Aahsan Maigag was called back by a downfield hold, and an ensuing punt was hauled back 67 yards by Hermantown’s Elliott Peterson to make it 16-14 Hawks.

“I don’t know if it’s because they’re young enough that they don’t realize they’re supposed to feel bad about themselves and they kind of missed that part, but these kids do a nice job of trusting themselves and their coaches when things don’t go our way,” Lenarz said.

After that touchdown, almost everything went Cloquet’s way. Wehr fumbled going in for a touchdown in the third quarter with the Hawks recovering, but Cloquet’s defense forced an immediate punt and when the Hawks ran a trick punt play, it was blocked by practically everyone in the Lumberjacks’ team picture. Two plays later, Wehr made amends with a 4-yard burst and Cloquet was ahead to stay at 20-16.

Pokornowski hooked up with Maigag on a 52-yard pitch-and-catch in the fourth quarter to give Cloquet an 11-point lead, and held the Hawks at bay with some ease after that.

What made the victory even more remarkable was that Cloquet played without three starting offensive linemen and tight end Evan Erickson out due to injury. Sophomore Brady Doran started at center — in his first varsity game and in his first season playing the position.

“Physically, he did more than hold his own,” Lenarz said, “and mentally he stayed in it too. He’s been on the JV all year and I was just really proud of him and the way the other guys picked up the slack when there was some. We kept it simple for him because like any kid he was nervous but he handled himself very well.”

Lenarz was also pleased with the gap discipline showed by the defensive front seven, a key reason the Hawks were held to only one offensive touchdown.

“We didn’t do that well against Grand Rapids,” he said. “We were more disciplined and holding our gaps instead of running around and being out of position. Hermantown will beat you if you aren’t disciplined.”

Yet the Jacks were, so the Hawks didn’t.

“It re-establishes some of the confidence we had going into the Rapids game,” Lenarz said of the win. “We know we played a good team in Hermantown and we play Proctor next. We know they’re a very good team but we don’t feel like we will play any team that is head and shoulders better than Hermantown, so if we play smart and don’t turn the ball over, we feel like we can play with anyone.”