Before St. Croix Lutheran and SMB took the field Friday night the 2016 3A runners-up they looked like the better team. Even though they were the smaller school, they have a ton of experience returning. That experience showed quickly as…
Before St. Croix Lutheran and SMB took the field Friday night the 2016 3A runners-up they looked like the better team. Even though they were the smaller school, they have a ton of experience returning. That experience showed quickly as they jumped out to a three score lead in the first quarter and never looked back on the way to a 50-14 victory and a 2-0 start to the season.
The story of the game was the play of the Crusaders' offensive line.
Early on guard Jack Kapanke and center, Sam Fischer opened a hole for running back Mike Stern and a big gain. During a fourth and goal at the one-yard line, the Crusaders went behind the Fischer and Kapanke combination for a touchdown.
“In the second half it stated to feel like we were getting a good push,” offensive tackle Sam Wondrasch said.
Kapanke and Wondrasch opened another big hole for Stern. The guard, center, guard combination of Matthew Sieh, Fischer and Kapanke dominated the interior of the SMB defense.
The three linemen were so active in the middle they set up a big play. The Crusaders ran a fake into the middle, which sucked the defense in and set up a thirty yard run around a wide open corner. Sieh also paved the way on a long run to the outside.
Eric Snook and the rest of the offensive line didn't do anything fancy. They are not very big, but they are quick off the ball and get into the defensive linemen and linebackers quickly with good angles and better leverage. Stern was usually not lined up very far behind the quarterback, so the holes didn't have to be open long.
Stern is a physical runner. Early he was hit in the hole but broke a tackle and picked up ten yards. He runs with a low center of gravity. After SMB cut the lead and finally had some momentum, Stern went 85-yards right up the middle for a touchdown.
“It starts with the offensive line,” St. Croix Lutheran's head coach Carl Lemke said, “but he has explosive speed and power. You put those together, and that is where you get the yardage.”
James Chernohorsky was a solid change of pace running back. He is a smaller guy, but he made a physical inside run. He was stopped in the hole, but broke a tackle and picked up ten yards. Later he made another tough inside run.
They didn't have to throw a lot, but when they did quarterback, Jonathan Liesener threw a decent deep ball and threw nicely on the move.
Liesener – NFN's 88th ranked junior – had a great target to throw to when he needed it.
Wide receiver Garett Maag was targeted twice and ended the game with two long touchdown catches. Along with his speed, he runs great routes.
Stephen Kletscher – ranked 181 by NFN – made a second half catch on an underthrown deep ball he had fight for and use good position to get his hands on the ball.
Maag – NFN's 23rd ranked senior, and North Dakota commit – also plays corner and because he was almost always in good position didn't get much action. The entire defensive backfield was great – not allowing the SMB passing game to get any consistency. When SMB finally found a match up they liked, the next series Maag switched to that receiver, and it ended the threat.
“We have improved our pass coverage a lot since last year,” Maag said. “They like to go deep with their wide receivers, but our work paid off.”
Chemohorsky, Thiao Carvalho, and Nehemiah Hammick joined with Maag to dominate the Wolfpack wide receivers.
Chemohorsky made an excellent play against the run as well. He was in space and was able to stop an option play for a short gain. He got in on a leg, hung on and made the tackle.
Stern – who is ranked by NFN as the 269th best 2018 prospect – filled the hole nicely for tackles for no gain at the linebacker position at least three times.
Sieh pressured the quarterback from the defensive line position and recorded a sack. Later in the game, he held contain on SMB's mobile quarterback and recorded a second sack.
Joining Sieh on the defensive line Matt Nelson put good inside pressure on the quarterback and picked up a sack of his own.
Lemke said this team is one of the most experienced he has had in years and is excited to see what this group – with 22 seniors – can do. Based off Friday night they can do big things – maybe even greater things than last season's runner up State finish.