With a speedy running back like Tony Andres and a powerful runner like Craig Luberts the Pierz Pioneers are built to play on artificial turf.
After playing the Section 8, Class 2A football final at the Fargodome, the Pioneers should be comfortable on turf.
They will have another turf opportunity 4:45 p.m. Friday when they face the Esko Eskomos in the quarterfinals of the 2A state tournament at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth.
Playing on an artificial surface suits the Pioneers (8-2) just fine.
"You get a few burns," Pierz coach Leo Pohlkamp said. "It makes you a little quicker. We're built more on speed anyway. We're not going to scare anybody when we get off the bus."
The site of Luberts running at them has scared most Pierz opponents. He has rushed for 1,670 yards and 26 touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards a carry.
Pohlkamp expects the Eskomos to shadow Luberts, as virtually every opponent has.
"In our first game he had 88 yards," Pohlkamp said. "Ever since he has gone over 100 and 200. Teams have come in focusing on him. We have plays where we have an extra blocker to take care of the person keying on him. If they shadow him we have to make sure that guy is blocked."
Class 2A State Quarterfinals
Pierz vs. Esko
Kickoff: 4:45 p.m. Friday at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth
Andres has added 530 yards and 12 touchdowns for the 10th-ranked Pioneers.
"Tony takes some of the pressure off Craig," Pohlkamp said. "Any team can gear up to stop one person, but we've still been able to get (Luberts) going."
Quarterback Joe Kahl also makes the Pioneers' offense go. He has passed for 844 yards and eight touchdowns.
"Joe runs our offense smooth," Pohlkamp said. "We haven't had to throw much. If we have to throw we believe we can.
"Joe's coming in with (844 passing) yards. He could easily have 1,000 yards because we've dropped so many balls. Lately, the ones we've thrown we haven't dropped."
On defense, Pierz relies on tackles Steve Doroff and Matt Mrnak to drop opposing ball carriers. Doroff has 64 tackles and three quarterback sacks. Mrnak has 43 tackles and eight sacks. They have thrived since Pierz switched from a 3-5 defense to a 5-2 alignment.
"Good teams like to run power football off-tackle," Pohlkamp said. "If we take that away, that's a plus for our defense. Those two have played great since we went to the 5-2."
Unranked Esko (8-3) returns to state after losing to Ottertail Central in the 2002 quarterfinals.
The Eskomos started the season 2-3, losing to Moose Lake-Willow River (15-12), Duluth Marshall (42-14) and Deer River (20-14).
In the section playoffs, fifth-seeded Esko got even with top-seeded and unbeaten ML-WR and No. 2 Marshall. The Eskomos nipped ML-WR 21-20 in the semifinals and outscored Marshall 19-7 in the final. Esko scored 19 unanswered points and shut out Marshall until the fourth quarter.
"We tend not to let the other team score much," Esko coach Bill Hudspith said. "We're playing pretty solid defense. We try to confuse the other team, try to work to our strength, and take some things away from them."
Quarterback Joe Plinski leads the Eskomos' offense with 909 yards passing. The running game is spread between Luke Hansmeyer (551 yards), Evan Nikunen (502) and Andrew Barnes (487).
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.