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Lumberjacks stage comeback win over Becker

Cloquet senior running back Aahsan Maigag runs away from Becker's Brayden Weber during Friday night's Class AAAA quarterfinal football game in St. Cloud. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 3
Cloquet quarterback Tim Pokornowski follows the block of teammate Spencer Wehr on a carry during Friday night's Class AAAA quarterfinal game against Becker. The Lumberjacks won 36-21 to advance to the semifinals against South St. Paul at 4:30 p.m. Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 3
Cloquet senior Mitchell Gerlach catches a pass in snowy conditions for a two-point conversion during Friday night's Class AAAA quarterfinal game against Becker. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal3 / 3

p>Following another practice past dusk on Tuesday evening at Esko Stadium, Dylan Lauer admitted he has never played high school football this late into November.

Nearing Thanksgiving however, the Cloquet senior is the thankful for the extended time on the turf.

In fact, Lauer and the Lumberjacks are as excited as ever on the gridiron, never more evident than following Cloquet's 36-21 comeback win over Becker in a Class AAAA quarterfinal last Friday on a snowy St. Cloud State campus.

"We're going to the Bank," the Duluth News Tribune reported Cloquet coach Tom Lenarz shouting after their victory over the Bulldogs, his players — Lauer and Co. — in instantaneous jubilant celebration.

That's because the fun is just starting. Cloquet (11-0) now clashes with South St. Paul (9-2) in Friday's 4:30 p.m semifinal at the Minnesota Vikings' ritzy U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

"It's pretty cool," said Lauer. "This is something that I'll be able to remember for the rest of my life."

Lauer, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound offensive and defensive lineman receiving Division II interest, helped pave the way for Cloquet's come-from-behind victory. A once 21-20 deficit turned into a 15-point win, capped by quarterback Tim Pokornowski's 8-yard touchdown keeper in the fourth quarter.

The senior Pokornowski, who is also getting the attention of Division II schools, looked like a magician on the play where he initially fumbled the ball, yet was quick to deflect praise to Lauer and his linemates.

"We couldn't execute any of our plays without them," said the 6-1, 180-pounder, who rushed for 133 yards and two scores. "They do all the work."

Lenarz agreed, noting his boys in the trenches have been more than stellar when creating gaping-wide holes for their laundry-list of talented athletes including Pokornowski, Josh Bushey, Aahsan Maigag, Spencer Wehr and Mitchell Gerlach — the latter two who added three TDs last week.

Jayden Schneberger, meanwhile, leads the defense with Lauer and others, both part of a team with 21 seniors on its roster.

"We've got kids who can run around the field both on offense, defense and special teams," said Lenarz, now in his 14th season, owning a 76-70 career record. "We're balanced. That makes it possible to do a lot of different things."

That balance has centered Cloquet to yet another undefeated fall, including their fourth state tournament appearance in five years and, finally, a breakthrough to get past the opening round.

Historically, this is the farthest the Lumberjacks have gotten in 41 years, when they finished as state runners-up in 1976.

Thus, Lenarz's boys are doing something special.

"I think special is a good word," said Lenarz. "It's been a fun football season."

"Every single game with these guys has been a blast," added Pokornowski. "We're just hoping to make this last as long as we can."

"There's a lot of posters and banners up all around the school," chimed Lauer. "It's just a really big thing for this town and community."

With all of the buzz going around town, Cloquet schools are now shortened to a half-day Friday, with the elementary buildings being released at noon and middle and high schools at 12:20 p.m. to allow for plenty of time for southbound travel. There are also rooter busses scheduled for students, a separate fan bus for adults and purple T-shirts are being sold for supporters to show their pride.

"We reminded the boys at practice tonight to take a minute and enjoy this process," Lenarz said. "Just soak it all in."

One can imagine what the city will be like if the Lumberjacks win Friday and advance to the Prep Bowl on Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving, back at U.S. Bank.

"We want to go play for that state championship," Pokornowski said.

Sitting on the opposite side of the bracket are the No. 8 Academy of Holy Angels (10-1) and top-ranked, defending Class AAAA runner-up Winona (11-0).

Yet, Cloquet — ranked fifth in the state — is focused on South St. Paul, an athletic Packers team that they face each June at Minnesota-Duluth summer camp.

"They're a lot like us," said Lenarz of the Packers, who ousted No. 3 Marshall 42-14 last week. "They've been to state a few times now, but they just couldn't get past that first round."

Hence, one school will be celebrating again on Friday — and then preparing for the biggest prep game of their lives.

So why not another week for the Lumberjacks?

Lauer certainly wouldn't mind a little more turf time with his buddies.

"This is an accomplishment that we can talk about," said Lauer, "but it'd be a better story if we made it one week further."

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IF YOU GO

State Class AAAA Semifinals:

Cloquet vs. South St. Paul

4:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17

at U.S. Bank Stadium

Listen at WKLK 96.5 FM and WKLK-AM 1230 (simulcast)

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