Only Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears may be more scintillating on punt returns than Brainerd's Kyle Crocker.
The Warrior senior returned two punts for touchdowns Saturday, inciting the second-seeded Warriors to a decisive 38-3 win over third-seeded Cambridge-Isanti in the semifinals of the Section 8-5A playoffs on a crisp afternoon at Adamson Field.
In all, Crocker returned four punts for 131 yards and spurred Brainerd to a 31-3 halftime lead.
"The second one was something you don't see in high school, you don't see anywhere," Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. "The first one he caught the ball on a dead run. It was a great catch, kind of at his knees, and we had good blocking."
Brainerd's Kyle Crocker (left) returned a punt for a touchdown as a teammate blocked against Cambridge-Isanti on Saturday in a Section 8-5A semifinal playoff game.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Crocker went to work with Brainerd leading 7-0 in the first quarter after the first of three Carsten Nelson touchdown runs.
He caught the first punt at the Brainerd 43 and raced untouched 57 yards, receiving a few key blocks on the play.
"I caught it and there was an open lane and I just ran," Crocker said. "It was wide open."
His next return for a score was on the next C-I possession. He caught the ball at his 40, headed toward the Warrior sideline, stopped, spun 360 degrees and bolted for the score.
"I got it, went over to the corner and kind of got stuck," Crocker said. "I was going to go backwards, then I ended up spinning, and it was wide open when I came around. I broke one more tackle and I was gone."
Crocker's returns highlighted an all-around grand day for the Warriors.
Brainerd rushed for 188 yards, with Jordan Hayes providing 97 yards and Carsten Nelson adding 72. Quarterback Reid Mimmack added 90 yards passing.
Warriors 38, Cambridge-Isanti 3
The key: Brainerd held the Bluejackets to 114 yards in total offense.
Overall: Brd 6-3, C-I 6-4
Next: No. 2 Brainerd vs. No. 1 Buffalo, Section 8-5A championship, 11 a.m. Saturday, St. John's University, Collegeville.
Defensively, the Warriors swarmed C-I like a bear on a bee hive filled with honey. They allowed just 114 yards and a 44-yard field goal by Eric Mielke as the second half expired. The fourth quarter was played with running time.
Brainerd sacked Bluejackets quarterbacks twice, Nate Parsons intercepted a pass and Barry Nelson partially blocked a punt. The Bluejackets crossed midfield just three times and were never inside the Warriors' 15.
"After giving up a lot of yards (416) and a lot of points (28) last week, not reaching any of our goals against Sartell (in a 28-0 loss), we focused on getting in position, making sure we were in the right place," Warriors defensive coordinator Bob Brakke said. "The kids did a great job of studying their tendencies, noticing their personnel, and their formations."
Zach Cadwell was another special teams contributor, kicking a 27-yard field goal and going 5-for-5 on extra points.
"I thought the overall team effort was very good today," Stolski said. "The kids wanted to play in the section final, that's what it boiled down to. We played very hard, and very well in a lot of places. I'm really proud of the team."
Cambridge-Isanti 0 3 0 0 - 3
Brainerd 21 10 7 0 - 38
Brd-Carsten Nelson 3 run (Zach Cadwell kick) 7:22
Brd-Kyle Crocker 57 punt return (Cadwell kick) 5:05
Brd-Nelson 15 run (Cadwell kick) :13
Brd-Crocker 60 punt return (Cadwell kick) 11:06
Brd-Cadwell 27 FG, 3:11
C-I-Eric Mielke 44 FG, 0:00
Brd-Nelson 2 run (Cadwell kick) 5:42
First downs: C-I 6, Brd 12
Rushes-yards: C-I 25-45, Brd 42-188
Pass comp-att-int-yds: C-I 4-16-1-69, Brd 7-9-0-90
Total offense: C-I 114, Brd 278
Punts-avg: C-I 6-29.3, Brd 2-44.0
Return yards: C-I 120, Brd 152
Fumbles-lost: C-I 1-0, Brd 1-0
Penalties-yds lost: C-I 3-15, Brd 7-52
Rushing: Brd, Reid Mimmack 1-3, Jordan Hayes 20-97, Crocker 2-5, Carsten Nelson 12-72, Jaron Hanson 5-14, Mason Fussy 1-(-4), Hernando Aguirre 1-1; C-I, Eric Johnson 8-9, Scott Gifford 5-4
Passing: Brd, Mimmack 7-9-90; C-I, Wade Smethers 0-6-0, Clayton Jennissen 4-10-69
Receiving: Brd, Crocker 2-26, Dylan Wheeler 3-51, Mitch Bzdok 2-13; C-I, Nick Scherer 3-65, Garrett Hedberg 1-4
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.