SECTION 7AAAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
After securing a first-round bye in the Section 7AAAA football playoffs, the Cloquet Lumberjacks had to sit back and wait to find out which team would come out of the playoff game between Hermantown and Hibbing.
As luck would have it, the 'Jacks ended up playing Hermantown, the same team they had beaten just 10 days before in Hermantown. Much like the first matchup, the Lumberjacks throttled the Hawks — this time 43-7 — putting them in a position to play for the section championship.
"The game went pretty much how we thought it would for the most part," Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz said. "Obviously, just playing them the week before we had a good idea of what they would do on both sides of the ball. At this point in the season, no one is going to be able to recreate themselves in three days."
The game was moved to Esko after a 10-inch snowfall covered the Northland Friday. Esko hosted four games as teams scrambled to find a field with playable conditions. Friday night was cold and frigid, but the wind from the Friday storm subsided by Saturday.
Hermantown took the opening kickoff and drove inside Cloquet territory, but eventually punted. From that point forward, it was all Lumberjacks. Cloquet took the ball on its first drive and drove 80 yards to paydirt, when Tim Pokornowski slipped into the end zone from the 3-yard line with 4:34 left in the first quarter. After the Eli Benson extra-point boot, the 'Jacks were up 7-0.
"Our kids executed at a high level on offense," Lenarz said. "Timmy (Pokornowski) played very well and made good decisions with the ball."
The Lumberjacks opened things up in the second quarter when they scored three more touchdowns. Mitch Gerlach scored on back-to-back drives: The first time was from 10 yards out, and the second was a 9-yard touchdown run that came on identical plays.
"Mitch (Gerlach) is a tremendous running back," Lenarz said. "He doesn't get as many carries this year because we have used him as a receiver more. Playing the wing, he doesn't get as many opportunities. We feel fortunate we have so many weapons to choose from."
The third touchdown of the quarter was a Pokornowski 35-yard run, pushing the score to 28-0 after Eli Benson notched all three extra-point kicks.
"We controlled the line of scrimmage and had success with just about everything we did," Lenarz said. "Our physical play wore them down early and we were able to gain big chunks of yardage, both running and passing."
Cloquet tacked on a couple more touchdowns in the third quarter when Pokornowski opened things up in the passing department. The first touchdown pass was an 11-yard toss to Tyler Moose. The 'Jacks added a two-point conversion when Riley Leslie picked up a bad snap and threw the ball to Michael Obeidzinksi making the score 36-0. Pokornowski then hit Eli Benson on a 14-yard touchdown strike in the back of the end zone to push the lead to 43-0 after Benson booted the extra-point kick.
"Tim (Pokornowski) was pretty incredible on Saturday," Lenarz said of his senior quarterback. "He is very confident in his ability to run and pass. We know he is a great athlete, but he has become a great quarterback. His leadership ability is as good as any kid I have coached. He is the first one to step up when things are hard and he tries to include all of his teammates in practice and games."
The fourth quarter saw Lenarz and his coaching staff playing many of their reserves and getting experience to players who may be needed in the playoffs. Such was the case of Alex Leuzzo, who stepped in and had a solid night in the backfield with 75 receiving yards.
Cloquet also had another solid night of line play, giving the backfield plenty of opportunity to make plays.
"The guys on the line have played at a high level this past few weeks," Lenarz said. "We have some talented and smart guys up front who are able to make in-game adjustments, and that makes us fairly dangerous."
Defensively, the 'Jacks manhandled the Hawks and didn't allow Hermantown to get its offense going. Hermantown's only touchdown came with the bulk of Cloquet's starters on the bench getting warm on the frigid night.
The Lumberjacks will set their sights on a North Branch team that Cloquet defeated 32-28 on the road Sept. 22. Cloquet led early in the game, but struggled to put the Vikings away in the second half and had to hang on for the win.
The title game will begin at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3, at Duluth Denfeld's Public Schools Stadium.
"It really has been a fun year with all these boys," Lenarz said. "They continue to work hard and enjoy playing for each other. You can't ask for more than that. I am hoping we get to keep doing this for a few more weeks."
IF YOU GO
Section 7AAAA Championship Game:
Cloquet vs. North Branch
7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3
at Duluth Denfeld
Listen at WKLK-AM 1230