MINNEAPOLIS — Not that they exactly met their match, but the Pierz Pioneers had to get a little tricky Saturday.
They (gulp) actually HAD to pass the ball a bit.
Pierz beat Jackson County Central 36-8 to win the title at Prep Bowl XXXIV, the second football title in school history and first since 2004.
“We have a couple of plays in our back pocket,” senior quarterback Aaron Weber said.
Instead of straight-head power formations, Pierz opened things up. And, instead of running out of the full-house backfield, the Pioneers threw the ball. Defensively, Pierz threw as many different looks as it could.
It caught Jackson County Central by surprise enough to account for two long touchdown passes on offense and force three turnovers defensively.
And that was enough to help Pierz claim the Class 3A state championship.
One of Weber’s passes went for a 75-yard touchdown pass to Michael Meyer that gave the Pioneers a 7-0 lead. The other was a 49-yard TD pass to Noah Boser that made it 15-8 in the second quarter.
The passing was needed because ninth-ranked Jackson County Central (10-3) did some things to Pierz that haven’t happened this season.
The Huskies scored a touchdown in the first quarter and ran a two-point conversion. That was was the first time Pierz had given up points in the first quarter all season. The two-point run by Keegan Moore gave Jackson County Central an 8-7 lead. That’s the first time Pierz trailed since 2014, when they lost to eventual state champion Rochester Lourdes 25-24 in overtime.
Ultimately, the Huskies couldn’t sustain enough offensively to beat the top-ranked Pioneers (13-0), who finish with the first undefeated season since the state playoff system was instituted in 1972.
Pohlkamp was quick to praise defensive coordinator Danny Saehr, suggesting that he should have been at the post-game press conference.
“Defense wins championships,” Pohlkamp said. “Offensive wins ball games.
“Defense wins championships and that’s what this was about. We knew they had a great offense coming in, two great running backs and a good line. And that was a challenge for us defensively.”
Three turnovers haunted the Huskies. Matt Kummet and Johnny Kasper recovered fumbles. Kolton Eischens forced one in the red zone that was huge. And, Meyer picked off his 10th interception of the season.
Still, the physical Huskies only trailed 15-8 at halftime.
“I thought we were in decent shape going into the locker room down by a score,” Jackson County Central head coach Tom Schuller said. “We feel like we are well-conditioned team.
“We knew if we got into too many passing situations that’s not what we do well. Give Pierz credit. They were able to get us into a lot of those situations and we had trouble converting them. And defensively, they did a great job. They were very difficult to stop. I have to tip my hat to them. They are a great football team.”
The Pioneers overcame injuries throughout the playoffs. Weber played on a badly sprained ankle suffered in the section finals against Annandale. He missed the 9-0 state quarterfinal win over Albany, then played about a half in the 29-6 semifinal victory over Tri-City United.
“With Aaron back, our offense is just so much more explosive,” Pohlkamp said.
When he isn’t in there, they are all right, too. Preston Rocheleau did well until he suffered a concussion. That meant the Pioneers turned to fullback Noah Boser in a wildcat formation to run the offense.
Pohlkamp introduced Boser to the assembled media as: “No. 24 Noah Boser, all-everything, running back, quarterback, whatever, defensive back, linebacker. How many positions you play?”
“Lots,” Boser said.
Boser was busy enough without having to play quarterback.
“It made everything a lot easier,” Boser said. “Playing fullback is way easier than quarterback.
“(Weber) knows that. I know that now. I didn’t think it was at first because I thought at quarterback it was just take the snap (and) hand the ball off.
“There’s a lot more to it than that.”
Boser rushed 13 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught the 49-yard TD pass and led the Pioneers with eight tackles, including an eight-yard quarterback sack.
It was a nice all-around game and a nice all-around performance by the Pioneers, who reveled in the sea of red that was their fan section behind their bench.
“It was cool to be in the moment,” Weber said. “That last quarter, I was looking around and it really hit me. This is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. The best place to be was out there (on the field) with my friends. It was really fun.”
“It was pretty cool,” Boser said. “I could probably count on one hand how many people are in Pierz right now because everyone came down here.”
That would include the Pohlkamps. The head coach is from a family of 16.
How many were there Saturday? “Most of ’em,” said the coach, a former St. Cloud State player who is one of 14 siblings. “There are a lot of Pohlkamps out there.”
Sister Jean is in Hawaii and tried to stream the broadcast over the Internet. Sister Collette has cancer is going through chemotherapy, Pohlkamp said. She was there. Mother Marie, age 90, was there, passing out cookies in the press box with her daughters.
The Huskies, who overcame ineligibility and other commitments in their two season-opening losses (a key wide receiver was out showing his sheep at the state fair), were impressed.
“Pierz’s offensive line was definitely … the toughest we faced all year,” said Moore, Jackson County Central’s halfback and defensive end who is headed to Oklahoma State on a wrestling scholarship. “They had some guys, especially No. 75 (David Skiba), they got movement up front. They were definitely a well-experienced team and definitely the toughest we played this year.”
P — Michael Meyer 75 pass from Aaron Weber (Lane Girtz kick)
JCC — Ryan Salzwedel 37 pass from Easton Bahr (Keegan Moore run)
P — Noah Boser 49 pass from Aaron Weber (Jonny Kasper run)
P — Boser 3 run (Girtz kick)
P — Boser 26 run (Girtz kick)
P — Kasper 1 run (Girtz kick)
Rushing: JCC — Avery Henderson 14-89, Moore 21-84, Salzwedel 2-11, Dalton Wagner 1-5, Zachary Poelaert 1-4, Bahr 8-(-2). Total: 47-191. P — Girtz 14-119, Boser 13-107, Kasper 9-40, Derick Hall 5-27, Nick Herold 1-(-2), Weber 3-(-8). Total: 45-283.
Passing: JCC — Bahr 5-12-1 90. P — Weber 3-7-0 143.
Receiving: JCC — Salzwedel 2-43, Chris Gumto 1-39, Matt Ringkob 1-6, Henderson 1-2. P — Meyer 1-75, Boser 1-49, Kolton Eischens 1-19.
Follow Tom Elliott on Twitter @sctimestom or call 259-3661