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’Jacks defeat Hunters after wild ride

Why spend money to get your thrills on a theme park ride when you can just head to Rol Bromberg Field and watch the Cloquet football team? On Friday night, the Lumberjacks and Duluth Denfeld provided a roller-coaster ride of epic proportions and ...

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“We have always felt like ‘platooning in’ players as much as possible up front is an advantage,” said Lenarz. “We just pounded them all game and with them playing both ways all game long they wore out. I really liked the way our offensive line played: we had 396 yards rushing against a six-man front and that is pretty cool.”

Why spend money to get your thrills on a theme park ride when you can just head to Rol Bromberg Field and watch the Cloquet football team? On Friday night, the Lumberjacks and Duluth Denfeld provided a roller-coaster ride of epic proportions and added a fireworks display worthy of Disneyland. The Lumberjacks punctuated the night with a 36-28 victory over a Hunter squad that made just enough big plays to keep the game in doubt until late in the fourth quarter.

The Lumberjacks grabbed a lead on just their second play from scrimmage when running back Aahsan Maigag scampered into the end zone from 33 yards out, giving Cloquet a 6-0 lead with just 38 seconds gone in the first quarter, but that was when the craziness began.

After stopping the Hunters on Denfeld’s first possession, the ’Jacks looked as if they would go in for another score, but Jacob Herold scooped up a fumble and raced 62 yards for a score - giving Denfeld a 7-6 lead after the extra point kick with six minutes remaining in the first quarter.

The Hunters added a 9-yard touchdown pass from Cody Brown to Brody Russell just before the end of the opening stanza and the lead was 14-6 in favor of Denfeld. Things got ugly in a hurry for the ’Jacks on their next possession when Russell nabbed a fumble that squirted high in the air and raced 49 yards for a score making it 21-6 early in the second quarter.

“It was clearly frustrating for players and coaches alike,” said Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz about the two fumbles returned for scores in the first half. “You really can’t plan for things like that except to keep your composure. This was the first time these kids have been behind and to have it happen in such a fluky way actually helped.”

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The Lumberjacks were able to close the gap to 21-12 before the first half on a Spencer Wehr 30-yard touchdown gallop, but they struggled with the extra point kick for the second score in a row and still trailed by nine points heading to the break.

“At halftime we just told the players, ‘Don’t panic,’” said Lenarz. “Our defense was playing well and we felt like we would be able to score. We just told them it was our game to win.”

The rollercoaster ride was just beginning for both teams as the second half opened with Denfeld building a 28-12 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Herold and the extra point kick. At that point things looked bleak for the hometown Lumberjacks.

“Denfeld was very aggressive and quick up front,” said Lenarz. “We didn’t play poorly by any means, but it was an adjustment coming off two games where the other teams weren’t equipped to handle us on the line.”

That all changed after Herold’s score as the Lumberjacks’ line began to take control and the Cloquet runners were the beneficiaries of the work in the trenches. With 1:46 left in the third quarter, the ’Jacks rally started in earnest when Wehr slashed his way to the end zone from 20 yards away to cut the lead to 28-18. Then the Jacks added a two-point conversion as Wehr followed the right side of his line to pull Cloquet to within eight points, at 28-20.

While the game was rife with big plays, none loomed larger than a play by Cloquet quarterback Tim Pokornowski early in the fourth quarter. With the ’Jacks facing a third-and-18-yards-to-go situation, the junior quarterback raced 28 yards for a first down. Just a couple of plays later, Pokornowski sprinted 44 yards for a touchdown - making the score 28-28 after a Wehr 2-point conversion run.

“That third down play was a big play for the team, but also for Timmy,” suggested Lenarz.  “We have been waiting for him to have a play like that all year. He is a tremendous athlete and we see it in practice but he hadn’t really been playing great Friday night. I felt like that play gave him some confidence and he played much better in the fourth quarter. He is going to surprise some people this year.”

That play surprised not only the Hunters, but it also seemed to instill even more confidence in the Cloquet line which began pounding the Denfeld line into submission.

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“We have always felt like ‘platooning in’ players as much as possible up front is an advantage,” said Lenarz. “We just pounded them all game and with them playing both ways all game long they wore out. I really liked the way our offensive line played: we had 396 yards rushing against a six-man front and that is pretty cool.”

The horses up front for Cloquet included Jordon Peil, Dylan Lauer, Evan Erickson and Kaleb Sandy, among others.

That line provided plenty of room for the Cloquet backs to maneuver and Wehr finished off the scoring with another 10-yard touchdown run with 6:35 remaining in the fourth quarter to give Cloquet a 36-28 win after Wehr also added a another 2-point conversion run.

The Lumberjacks finished with 430 yards on offense and had two rushers, Wehr and Maigag, with more than 100 rushing yards, and another, Pokornowski, with 91, who almost hit the century mark.

Cloquet will now hit the road for two tough road games against Grand Rapids this Friday night and then next week against undefeated Hermantown.

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