VERNDALE -- In the Verndale Pirates offensive scheme a tight end is an extra lineman who can catch the ball.
Senior Eric Bramer fits that description. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound tight end-defensive end helped the Pirates with clutch catches at the most opportune times.
Bramer had two catches for 19 yards in the state quarterfinal win over LeRoy-Ostrander Nov. 8. One of those receptions was on a 2-point conversion, giving Verndale a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.
Bramer has a knack for getting open. Against Isle in the Section 4 final, the senior caught two passes for 40 yards. Both receptions helped keep eventual scoring drives alive.
In an offense that doesn't pass much, Bramer has contributed with his receptions and blocking.
"For us the tight end is probably the most important guy in our blocking scheme," said Verndale coach Mike Mahlen.
Last year, Bramer was a starting tackle and was moved to tight end before this season started. The transition was easy.
"I actually kind of liked the idea because I knew I could catch the ball and I wouldn't just block all the time," the senior said. "The blocking doesn't bother me, it's just that catching the ball and scoring a touchdown is fun."
Mahlen said moving Bramer to tight end made the team better.
"From a blocking standpoint, the transition didn't change, but the pass receiving did," Mahlen said.
"He handled the move very well," Mahlen added. "I think he's doing better than we dreamed he would do. He's really caught the ball and has turned into an outstanding receiver with only one year experience."
Bramer scored a key touchdown in the section semifinals. With Verndale ahead of Underwood 14-12, quarterback Cory Umland found Bramer wide open and the senior scored from 20 yards out to seal the victory.
"We usually don't throw the ball," said Bramer. "The one against Underwood was big though. It was fourth and five and just close enough to the touchdown. We had been running all day and we faked to the running back.
"I don't think I was thinking about anything during the play. It was in my hands before I had time to think, 'Don't drop it.'"
Mahlen said Bramer has deceptive speed for his size. His ability to find an opening, and then present a big target for Umland, has added another dimension to the Pirates' offense.
Blocking and defense is where Bramer excels however. Verndale racked up 337 yards rushing against Isle and 318 against L-O.
"We just stay with our blocks," Bramer said of the success of the running attack. "The key ones are getting the linebackers blocked. It's nice being able to run the ball because no one has been able to stop us really."
Defensively, Bramer added 10 tackles in the state quarterfinals.
"He's been playing good all year," said Mahlen. "He had a couple of quarterback sacks against LeRoy. He played very good defense."
Last year, Bramer was a utility type defender, moving around to different positions. He played end, defensive tackle and linebacker. Now he's a mainstay on a formidable Pirates line.
"LeRoy ran at him a lot and I thought he had an outstanding game," said Mahlen.
Other notable performances:
Football -- Verndale's Kyle Ashman rushed for 198 yards and four touchdowns and caught two passes for 42 yards and a score vs. LeRoy-Ostrander. He also had 15 tackles.
Verndale's Casey Finck rushed for 107 yards and caught one pass for 10 yards vs. LeRoy-Ostrander.
Pillager's Tony Mason rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown vs. Cook County.
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