In its quest to defend its Class 2A state football title, Pierz had just one question mark - the offensive line.
Graduated was two-year starting center and Central Minnesota Conference Lineman of the Year Lenny Anderson.
Gone was two-year starting guard, first-team all-conference, All-Section 8, Class 2A, all-area and captain Nathan Britz.
Gone was two-year starting tackle, all-section and all-area Matt Mrnak.
Gone for the regular season was Cody Luberts.
That offensive line helped Pierz rush for 4,037 yards and throw for 1,096 yards last year. It was the centerpiece of an offense that scored 35.1 points a game in winning the school's first Prep Bowl championship.
The only returning starter was senior tackle Brandon Grittner so four-fifths of the Pioneers' offensive line had to be reconstructed.
"We were thinking we would have to replace just three," said Pierz coach Leo Pohlkamp, "but with Luberts out for the season we had to find four new starters and we did."
Senior Chad Britz took over at center, Kyle Girtz and Jeremy Monson became the new guards and Scott Saehr mans the tackle spot.
Those five will be asked to pave the way against the Eden Valley-Watkins Eagles 12:45 p.m. Friday in the Class 2A state semifinals at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
"When we played EV-W the first time we were without Brandon Grittner who had a slight shoulder separation, but he's back," said Pohlkamp. "Britz has really stepped it up. Girtz is just a tough kid, Monson is having a nice year and Scotty Saehr is doing a great job."
Along with tight ends Jerron Boser and Mark Korf and fullback Chuck Boser, this year's offense has rushed for 3,546 yards and passed for 1,464. Pierz is averaging 52.8 points a game.
Pierz vs. Eden Valley-Watkins
What: Class 2A state semis
When: 12:45 p.m. Friday
Where: Metrodome, Minneapolis
Who: Pierz (12-0, ranked No. 1, Section 2 champion) vs. Eden Valley-Watkins (10-2, unranked, Section 5 champion)
What's at stake: A trip to the Prep Bowl Nov. 25.
"They have a very good offensive line and their backs are so quick," said Eagles head coach Ray Tri. "Their line can handle you and if they do have a breakdown, their backs are quick enough to get through the hole."
Pierz running back Bryan Virnig won't play Friday after injuring his knee in last week's 56-6 quarterfinal victory over Waterville-Elysian-Morristown. He rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns the last time these teams squared off, a 48-0 Pierz victory Oct. 19.
"We do have some depth at running back with Warren (Gall), Scott Herold and (Nathan) Janson," said Pohlkamp. "But it really comes down now to the offensive line has to step it up. That's what wins football games. Nothing works unless you do the job upfront."
In the first meeting between the conference foes Pierz rushed for 318 yards and gained 488 total yards. The Pioneers' defense held EV-W to 182 yards.
"Pierz just plain beat us and beat us bad and the score indicates that," said Tri. "We're playing pretty well of late, but we haven't played Pierz of late.
"We didn't move the ball last time we played them and their defensive front is just solid. They make it hard to get to their linebackers. Then if you throw, their secondary is good. I don't see a weakness in their team."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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