The Pierz Pioneers are still in the hunt to repeat as Central Minnesota Conference football champions as four teams are logjammed atop the standings.
Pierz needs a win 7 p.m. Friday when it hosts the Eden Valley-Watkins Eagles (4-1 conference, 5-1 overall).
Pierz, EV-W, Holdingford and Rockford are all tied atop the conference with 4-1 records. Holdingford has wins over Pierz and EV-W. Rockford beat Holdingford while EV-W beat Rockford.
Pierz finishes the regular season at Rockford Oct. 16 and if the Pioneers win the next two games, Pierz will repeat as conference champs.
First, the Pioneers need to defeat the Eagles.
"It's real important for the conference and for section seedings," said Pierz coach Leo Pohlkamp. "Right now we're seeded second behind Norwood-Young America. Holdingford is seeded third and Eden Valley-Watkins is fourth."
The last two years, the Pioneers and Eagles have a developed quite a rivalry. Last year, Pierz beat them in the regular season and again in the first round of the Section 5, Class 2A playoffs.
Two years ago, Pierz beat the Eagles in the regular season while the Eagles knocked Pierz out of the playoffs.
"We can almost pencil it in that we're going to play them twice in a year," said Pohlkamp.
Last week, the Eagles fell to Holdingford 35-26 to create the four-way tie. EV-W had beat St. John's Prep 35-0, Kimball 37-0, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 40-7, Rockford 19-14 and Maple Lake 42-8 before losing its first game.
EV-W was ranked 10th in the Class 2A poll before the Oct. 4 loss.
"Their quarterback is a three-year starter and leads the whole area in passing," said Pohlkamp. "They spread the field out with twin receivers on both sides and throw the ball a lot. They also have a running back who's rushed for over 700 yards.
"They took the loss to Holdingford but they got up 14-0 early in the game before Holdingford came back."
Pierz heads into the contest with a two-game winning streak. The Pioneers beat Kimball 42-14 last week. They beat Howard Lake-Waverly 33-14 after losing to Holdingford Sept. 20, 18-14. The other three wins were against Annandale 20-19, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 38-7 and Maple Lake 45-0.
Leading the way for the Pioneers, who have been ranked as high as second in the Class 2A poll and are still receiving consideration, is the running of Craig Luberts and the receiving and kick returning of Mark Poepping.
"They know that we're going to run the football because nobody has stopped us yet," Pohlkamp said. "We have to run the football. We actually put Mark in the backfield and ran him on quick tosses, but we're going to move him back to is old position, otherwise Eden Valley will just stack the line of scrimmage.
"We need our other receivers and our quarterback to step up. This is such a big game. We have our hands full."
If the offense struggles against the Eagles, Pierz does have explosive special teams. Poepping has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, including a 95-yard return last week.
Luberts has a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown to his credit.
"I wouldn't want to have to punt or kick off to us," said Pohlkamp. "It seems like every week we're getting a big play on special teams. Last week Mark broke three or four tackles on his way to the score.
"That's been the key. We have some real good, elusive kids returning the kicks. Our special teams have excelled and we need them to excel again."
Barring a loss by Norwood-Young America the Pioneers should continue to maintain the No. 2 seed in the section playoffs.
"We control our own destiny," said Pohlkamp.
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