A lot of what the Pierz Pioneers will attempt to do in the Class 2A state football semifinals 12:45 p.m. Friday at the Metrodome depends on the health of Warren Gall.
The problem is it takes five different players to replace Gall.
The junior running back for the 10-2 Pioneers hurt his ankle in last week's 22-21 state quarterfinal victory against Esko. He is listed as probable against the 10-2 Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Buccaneers.
"I would say there's a chance he can play," said Pierz coach Leo Pohlkamp. "At what percent I don't know. We're going to prepare as if we're going to play without him. Whatever he can give us is just a bonus.
"What was nice was teams couldn't key on just Christian (Even) or Warren. That was nice how they complemented each other."
Pierz will miss Gall offensively if he can't play. On 196 carries he's rushed for 1,388 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Gall is also the long snapper on extra-point kicks. His injury prompted Pierz to go for the two-point conversion to beat Esko. He's also a punt and kickoff returner.
"Other than Gall we're pretty healthy and that's good," said Pohlkamp. "Our offensive line is intact and so is our defense. Bryan Virnig has replaced Warren on defense."
The Pioneers will need to be healthy to battle the larger W-E-M Bucs. Their offensive line features 6-foot, 245-pound guard Jared Thelemann; 6-0, 240 tackle Randy Splett; 6-1, 210 center Matt Mader; 6-4, 230 guard Tyler Velzke; and 6-3, 230 tackle Steve Jewison.
"They have real good size," Pohlkamp said. "They're a big team and I would compare them to when we played Annandale. They have a sophomore linebacker that's 6-4, 220. Even Brainerd would like a kid that size. It's going to be their size and power against our quickness."
Pierz vs. W-E-M
What: Class 2A state semifinals
When: 12:45 p.m. Friday
W-E-M lost to Minnesota Valley Lutheran 28-6 and New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva 21-20 in the final two weeks of the regular season. The Bucs did avenge one loss by beating NRHEG 32-6 in the Section 2 championship.
"They like to pound it," said Pohlkamp. "They'll run off tackle and lead with a blocker. They run a quick toss and they can throw the ball. If they have a choice, I would imagine they'll try to ram it down our throats."
Junior receiver Bryce Kinniry (5-11, 155) is the Bucs' go-to receiver with 43 receptions for 805 yards. Trey Roemhildt (6-1, 170) is the top running back with 867 yards on 181 carries. But W-E-M is balanced, with Jake Malek gaining 417 yards and Jake Lee adding 209.
"We have to run the ball inside and outside," said Bucs coach Jon Bakken. "We'll take what they're going to give us. If we get into a horse race with them it won't be a pretty horse race."
The Bucs will have their hands full with Even. The senior back has gained 1,559 yards and scored 19 touchdowns. The speedy runner should be even more elusive on the Metrodome turf.
"That guy is fast," said Bakken. "He's just scary more so than anything else. We can't let him get the ball. Obviously, he's one of the biggest threats. They have other guys and they have good team speed, but hopefully we can do our job and contain Even."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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