Football flies high at every level

John Gilbert

Denfeld’s Montrelle McMillian outran Cloquet’s defense for a 50-plus yard gain, setting up a touchdown on the next play, for an 84-yard drive in two plays as the hunters battled but lost 35-26 in the Section 7AAAA semifinals. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Denfeld’s Montrelle McMillian outran Cloquet’s defense for a 50-plus yard gain, setting up a touchdown on the next play, for an 84-yard drive in two plays as the hunters battled but lost 35-26 in the Section 7AAAA semifinals. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Cloquet’s Markus Pokornowski raced for a 62-yard touchdown by outrunning the whole Denfeld defense in the 7AAAA shootout at Cloquet last Saturday. Pokornowski gained 181 yards before injuring his shoulder. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Cloquet’s Markus Pokornowski raced for a 62-yard touchdown by outrunning the whole Denfeld defense in the 7AAAA shootout at Cloquet last Saturday. Pokornowski gained 181 yards before injuring his shoulder. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Linebacker Derek Rengo was pressed into ball-carrying duty with Markus Pokornowski injured, and gained some key yards against Denfeld. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Linebacker Derek Rengo was pressed into ball-carrying duty with Markus Pokornowski injured, and gained some key yards against Denfeld. Photo credit: John Gilbert

If you haven’t had enough high-caliber football yet, stick around. It’s just heating up.

Diehard Vikings fans and Packers fans might be crushed because their heroes lost last Sunday, but both were great games, entertaining from start to finish. University of Minnesota fans can finally feel good that their Golden Gophers won a Big Ten game - albeit after blowing a 31-9 lead and sneaking past Indiana - Indiana! - 39-31.

Up here in the Northland, we are celebrating that the temperature is staying mostly at 40 or above, helping hold off the inevitable onslaught of winter. But we can get warmed up by the big-screen satellite TV and those above-mentioned games, but also by our own pair of college teams.
UMD won in a Division II romp, 63-7 at Minnesota-Crookston and now come home to Malosky Stadium with a lofty 9-0 record, and on a drive to finish unbeaten with Mary, this Saturday, and Northern State, next week, to finish the regular season. It should be noted that in that 63-7 rout, UMD scored an all-time school record 56 points in the first half to assure that there would be no drama to the second half.

St. Scholastica, the Division III half of our grid tandem, whipped Iowa Wesleyan 44-20 as quarterback Zach Edwards was 33-59 for 442 yards and three touchdowns. The Saints are 5-1 and still a game out of first place in the UMAC, but still have a shot at it.
Don’t however, overlook high school football for maximum excitement at this time of year. It was entirely fitting that arch-rivals Cloquet and Hermantown would  meet with identical 8-1 records in Friday night’s Section 7AAAA championship game, at 7 p.m. at Public Schools Stadium. You could assume they are our best two teams in the area, but there are more.

Denfeld, rising in a rebuilding year, took a real run at Cloquet in the semifinals last Saturday, losing 35-26 but turning the game into one of those whoever-has-the-ball-last affairs, before it got away from the Hunters at the end. The difficulty for the Lumberjacks is the status of Markus Pokornowski, a junior phenom who does it all offensively and defensively. He went down heavily under a couple of hefty Hunters, and squashed is left shoulder into the turf.

But here’s a snapshot of what made that game great: Alex Leuzzo caught a short pass from Riley Leslie and raced the rest of the way for a sudden 90-yard touchdown to put Cloquet up. But Denfeld’s Wryott Gerson took the ensuing kickoff and went 81 yards for a matching TD. Pokornowski scored the next TD, and Leuzzio’s second of the night 21-6 and it looked like the Lumberjacks might be off and running.

But after Denfeld had to start back on its own 20, Montrelle McMillian, who has escaped from a try at quarterback last season, showed how well he fits as a running back by sweeping right end and going 50 yards. Dominic Klaas took the turn next, going around left end for the remaining 33 yards and another touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-14 and it was a game again. But wait! Pokornowski still had time to sprint around right end and escape for a 62-yard touchdown for Cloquet.

That made it 29-14 at halftime, and the Lumberjacks went to 35-14, shortly after Pokornowski went to the sideline. Still, Denfeld never gave up and scored two more touchdowns, by Klaas and Gerson, to close the gap at the finish. It was a hearty, impressive battle by the Hunters, and a satisfying victory for the Lumberjacks.

Hermantown beat North Branch 21-6, with David Cornelius scoring all three touchdowns. The Hawks victory gave them a matching 8-1 record to take to Public Schools Stadium for the Cloquet battle.
Back to the NFL, the Central Division is setting up perfectly. Chicago is 4-3, the Vikings are 4-3-1, Green Bay is 3-3-1, and Detroit is 3-4. The Vikings should be favored against Detroit this next Sunday, but the Packers will have to regain their magic to beat New England, while Chicago should be favored at Buffalo. But if Detroit beats the Vikings and Buffalo beats Chicago, the Vikings, Chicago and Detroit would all be .500, and Green Bay would be in position to take first place, or fall to fourth, depending on the outcome at New England.

Meanwhile, the loyalists are all raving about that game, because it is a showdown between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady - acclaimed by almost all TV promoters as the greatest two quarterbacks in the NFL this season, and possibly ever. Well, wait just a minute. 
We just saw a fellow named Drew Brees put up with being harnessed by a great Vikings effort and still put on a precise, perfect performance to beat the Vikings. And I switched back and forth from the Vikings game to the Seattle Seahawks 28-14 victory over Detroit. Russell Wilson completed 10 passes and notched two touchdowns before he threw one incomplete, and he finished 14-17 for 248 yards and three touchdowns, to record a 158.3 quarterback score - which is perfect.

As football fans, we are blessed to have so many great quarerbacks running around out there, but before you take it to the bank that Rodgers and Brady are the best two, don’t overlook that “other” pair - Brees and Wilson!