In a rematch of last season's 3A title game, there was no need for a miracle play to turn the tide of the game for either St. Croix Lutheran or Rochester Lourdes. All St. Croix Lutheran needed to do was get behind a dominating offensive line and get the ball to running back Mike Stern.
Stern carried the ball 23 times for 243 yards and scored six of the Crusaders nine touchdowns in a 61-29 victory to advance to the 3A semi-finals.
“I thought we had a good game,” the understated Stern said. “There were definitely things we can work on this week in practice, but the line blocked really well for everyone.”
On a fourth and four Stern got the scoring started midway through the first quarter. He not only picked up the first down he finished the run in the end zone. Like most drives, the option attack of the Crusaders was too much for Lourdes to stop consistently.
The point man on the option was quarterback Jonathan Liesener. The reads he made on the option were just as critical to Stern and the offense's success. Liesener would call his own number late in the first quarter and scored on a 36-yard touchdown run.
He didn't have to throw a lot, but Liesener kept the Eagles' defense honest by throwing to his favorite receiver – Garett Maag. Specifically, the senior receiver's deep routes kept the defense out of the box giving Stern more room to run.
Two more touchdowns by Stern – including one with just 34 seconds to play – would take the Crusaders into the half with a 26-7 lead.
Rochester Lourdes would come out of halftime with a quick touchdown to get back into the game, but the offense would not sustain enough consistency against the Crusaders' defense to threaten to get back into the game.
The Crusaders' defense had a big hand in the Lourdes struggles.
“Our pass coverage was really good,” Stern said, “and we got some pressure in the middle.”
Defensive pressure in the middle led to another St. Croix Lutheran score. The offense put up points seemingly whenever they wanted to – including a 72-yard touchdown run by Stern, but the defense contributed to the scoring as well. Like the Crusaders, Lourdes ran a fair amount of option football. Crusaders' defensive lineman Matthew Sieh read the option pitch and actually intercepted the pitch and rumbled 35 yards into the end zone.
The offensive line was the unit that made the offense go all afternoon. Regardless of who was running the ball, the Crusaders offense averaged 9.5 yards per attempt.
The re-match of the title game a year ago didn't look anything like the game Saturday afternoon. Not only was the victor different – the outcome was known long before any wild late-game heroics took place.
St. Croix Lutheran will play Pequot Lakes on Saturday for the right to go to the Prep Bowl.