State Football: Pequot poised for state upset
It's No. 1 ranked vs. unranked. It's perennial state participant vs. first-time state semifinalist.
But at this point it's anyone's guess how the top-ranked St. Croix Lutheran Crusaders and Pequot Lakes Patriots match up on the field.
Fans will find out 4:30 p.m. Saturday in the Class 3A state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"That's the great thing about state football," said Pequot Lakes head coach Chip Lohmiller. "In our section, we've seen those guys over and over again. We know exactly what each team has and what they've been doing. We don't have any history on (St. Croix). So we're trying to find out as much information as we can. We're watching as much film as we can to try to come up with a game plan.
"They are where they are because they are good. They're well-coached. They have great players and a good team and good history. We have a great team as well, with good athletes and a desire to win."
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Pequot Lakes vs. St. Croix Lutheran Academy
- What: Class 3A state semifinal
- When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
- Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
- Who: Top-ranked St. Croix Lutheran Academy Crusaders (11-0), unranked Pequot Lakes Patriots (9-2)
- Twitter: @JeremyMillsop
- Facebook and Twitter: www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan
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This is St. Croix's eighth state tournament and seventh straight. The Crusaders were the Class 3A state runner-up last year and state champions in 2011 and 2013.
They were the top-ranked team in the final Associated Press poll and own the No. 1 ranking in the Quality Results Formula. The team's 49.2 points-per-game average leads Class 3A.
That offense is led by running back Michael Stern, who has tallied 1,363 yards and 26 touchdowns on just 134 carries.
"We've got two running backs that we have back from last year in Michael Stern and James Chernohorsky, who has some speed," Lemke said. "That helps us with two good backs. Our tight end is a big kid. He can block so that's a positive, and our wide receiver is a taller receiver in Garett Maag. He's been a factor.
"So you put that together, we have some nice athletes at the skill positions."
Chernohorsky has 485 yards and six scores on just 56 carries.
Sophomore quarterback Jonathan Liesener has thrown for 720 yards and 12 TDs on 27 of 55 passing. His top target is senior wideout Maag. The 6-foot-5 target has 15 catches for 524 yards and nine scores.
The Crusaders run a quick-striking veer option offense that gave a very good Pierz team trouble in last year's state semifinal.
Lohmiller believes the Patriots should be fine "as long as we understand that each person has a role on defense, and each person has to know their assignment and complete their assignment and trust their teammates on their position and their assignments. You can't have anybody differ from what they're supposed to be doing to make this defense work against the veer. Everybody needs to know their assignments and they have to produce when they're assigned something."
St. Croix has outrushed opponents 2,943 yards to 1,037. Pequot's defense held opponents to just 9.5 points per game. That's third best in Class 3A and second only to Pierz among the four remaining teams in that class.
"It's going to be a challenge for the defense, but we do have a very good defense," Lohmiller said. "That's going to be the big battle. I don't think their defense is as strong as some of the teams we've seen so who knows how it's going to play out.
"I don't know how they're going to defend us. We have so many different ways to attack a defense and so many different weapons that it's tough to game plan against us. They could go many different directions."
Pequot's Nathan Traut has 1,308 yards and 15 scores on 156 carries. Blake Lane has rushed for 484 yards and six TDs. He's also thrown for 1,081 yards and seven TDs.
"Their tailback is awesome," Lemke said. "He's got size and speed. He's going to be hard to stop. Then you put that together with a quarterback who is just as big and likes to run and throws really well. Those are two great athletes.
"At wide receiver, I see they have speed and great hands. Their tight end is very aggressive. The offensive line, they have nice size and good footwork and good speed. They're as quality of a team as we will have faced this year."
Pequot's Austin Young has hauled in 26 passes for 553 yards and four scores. Maxx Schindel has 16 catches for 218 yards, while Traut has 237 yards and 4 TDs on 12 catches.
"Pequot does the multidimensional very well," Lemke said. "I suppose that makes it more difficult from a standpoint that you have to prepare for various formations and different things they do out of each. I would say, when you put the multidimensional with the fact they do it well it, makes it hard.
"During the year, we faced a lot of multidimensional teams, but none that have done it as well as Pequot Lakes."
This is Pequot's second state tournament and first time advancing to the state semifinals. This will be the Patriots' first trip to U.S. Bank Stadium. St. Croix played at the Minnesota Vikings home field twice last year.
"It comes down to the awe of going into the stadium," Lemke said. "Therefore, mistakes and performing up to your ability and keeping focused on what you have to do, I think, is the key to a game like this. Especially when you match teams at this level. It's the team that makes the fewest mistakes and is the most focused that has the greatest chance of winning, I think."
Pequot is coming off a 34-0 blowout of Mora in last week's quarterfinal. It owns the No. 8 spot in the QRF and has shut out four of its last five opponents.
"The guys are pretty confident," Lohmiller said. "We got inside the 10 a couple more times against Mora. We could have scored more touchdowns. Defensively we shut down a team that relies on the big play and we were a little bit nervous about some of their big play makers and we were able to shut them down.
"They have to work really hard this week. Concentrate. Focus and understand each person's role defensively. Offensively, we just need to keep working on what we've been doing and keep playing our football."