Soggy field doesn't slow Janke, Panthers


Looking at the anticipated yellow, orange and red radar of weather forecasted for the evening of Friday, Aug. 31, it didn't take coach Brent Johnson long to help decide to postpone his South Ridge football team's season-opening game with Isle.

Rather, Joe Janke provided the biggest storm Saturday, Sept. 1.

Janke rushed for a career-high 334 yards and scored four touchdowns in leading the Panthers past the Huskies 39-18 at a soggy field in Culver, which was saturated from the severe storms the night before, but held up for the run-wild Janke.

Janke, a senior, has been a starter since his freshman year three seasons ago, but the 5-foot-9, 190-pound captain never had an afternoon like last weekend. Equipped with a mix of strength and patience, Janke ran for chunks of yardage at a time. On his 28 carries, he averaged nearly 12 yards a touch.

"He's been the go-to guy the last three years," said Johnson, in his fifth season, of his three-sport stalwart, Janke. "Joe runs hard. If we need yards, he's the one that we go to."

Janke, also a basketball point guard and baseball catcher, lives on his family's farm in nearby Brookston, where they raise cows and chickens. While growing up and still to this day, he often bales hay, but this summer, he's been in the weight room preparing for one of his favorite times of year.

That strength, meshed with his patience of reading the blocks of his linemen, make Janke a hard-to-tackle threat.

"He's one of the best readers I have seen — he knows when to cut," Johnson said. "And if he's out in the open, there's not a lot of kids who want to go one-on-one with him."

Case in point: the many would-be Isle defenders. Last weekend, the Huskies had a hard time touching, let alone tackling, Janke as he raced up and down the mushy sidelines.

Yet, Janke, as the soft-spoken, humble leader he his, was quick to deflect praise to his lane-clearing teammates up front.

"I couldn't go far without the line we have," said Janke of their veteran offensive line: seniors Matt Kilbourn, Jayton Nelson, Gavin Wagner, junior Nick Larson and sophomore Deekon Anvid.

"They really did great opening those holes."

Johnson also credited fellow backfield mates, senior Elias Tuominen and junior Matt Clark, for paving the way for Janke's memorable day. Both, like many on the Panthers' 33-man roster, have been on the varsity for several seasons.

That said, South Ridge (1-0) has as good a shot as any to challenge two-time defending Section 5 champion Cromwell-Wright. The Panthers played the Cardinals in the 2016 final, losing 54-0, yet are seeking a better encore if they meet again.

"Cromwell is always going to be there," Johnson said. "And I'd like to think we're in the top three."

"We've fallen short the last couple of years," added Janke, whose Panthers were also exited 34-22 by the Cardinals in the semifinals last fall. "We're all just hoping to go to state this year. I think we've got the team to do it. We're in the mix."

Surely, with Janke, the Panthers are never out of the conversation. With his father, Adam, as an assistant coach, as well as plenty of family relatives as former players, Janke, the youngest of four siblings, has always loved the gridiron.

"He leads by example," Johnson said. "The last couple of years, we pass — if we have to. (Joe) has just been solid."

Johnson, who doesn't shy away from calling run plays, added that Janke rushed for "well-over" 1,000 yards last year.

"And that was in just seven games," Johnson said.

He also had no sympathy for assistant coach and team statistician Chris Clark, who was tallying up all of the numbers from last weekend's opener on both sides.

The up-and-down nine-man affair totaled 805 yards of offense, 439 for the Panthers and 366 from the Huskies.

The Panthers travel to Lake of the Woods (1-0) in Baudette on Friday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. for their next contest.