3 'Jacks of a kind
Growing up, Markus Pokornowski did his best to hang with older brothers Tim and Evan, both of whom were terrific athletes at Cloquet, especially on the football field.
Tim Pokornowski, who dazzled at quarterback before moving full-time to safety once he arrived at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, was the Duluth News Tribune's All-Area Player of the Year in 2017 after leading the Lumberjacks to a runner-up showing at the Class AAAA state tournament, while Evan Pokornowski made the All-Area team as a linebacker in 2016.
And they certainly didn't take it easy on their younger sibling. Markus is the better for it.
"I learned to be tough and work hard," the junior fullback/linebacker said following second-ranked Cloquet's 34-12 win over Duluth Denfeld on Friday, Sept. 7, at Public Schools Stadium, where he carved up the Hunters for 185 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 16 carries.
This after going for 166 yards on six rushes in last week's season-opening victory at Esko.
If there's one other thing Pokornowski learned as a youngster, it has to be the old saying about being seen but not heard. He may never fill a reporter's notebook. Don't be fooled, though, Lumberjacks coach Tom Lenarz said.
"He's a pretty stoic dude. He's not a rah-rah guy, but he is one of the more intense football players and competitors I've ever coached," the coach said.
It was Pokornowski's 3-yard run at the end of the first quarter that handed Cloquet (2-0) a lead it never relinquished — though Denfeld (1-1) made a run at the two-time defending Section 7AAAA champs, trailing just 14-6 at the break.
The Hunters took the opening kickoff and promptly marched down to the Lumberjacks' 3, where sophomore QB Kade Shea's fourth-down TD pass to Dominic Klaas was negated by a penalty. Denfeld then turned it over on downs.
Against a club like Cloquet, the Hunters hardly could afford missed opportunities. That was especially true given their roster size. Just 32 Denfeld players dressed Friday night, and the lack of depth became evident in the second half.
Pokornowski found an enticing seam that he raced through for a 37-yard score in the third, and speedy senior teammate Alex Leuzzo followed by taking an inside reverse out wide before cutting back the other way and exploding 65 yards to put this one on ice.
"Explode" is an appropriate word for these Lumberjacks. Despite graduating a plethora of firepower from last year's squad, they appear just as dangerous.
"I definitely think we'll be just as explosive, if not more explosive," Pokornowski said.
Pokornowski is a fullback, but he doesn't run like one. He has the requisite strength — he had a 21-yard run Friday in which it required five maroon jerseys to drag him down — but he's also got some giddy-up.
"They're solid enough up front that you don't get a touch on him until he gets moving and has some momentum," Hunters coach Frank Huie said.
Cloquet's offensive line, indeed, deserves its share of credit. Through two games, the Lumberjacks have rushed for nearly 800 yards. When you remember that their Week 1 showdown with Esko lasted only one half because of inclement weather, that's jaw-dropping.
"It all comes down to the line. They work their (butts) off," said Leuzzo, who amassed 116 yards on six attempts Friday. "They work really hard and I was proud of them. Every time we had a good run I went straight to them and congratulated them."
For all of Cloquet's offensive pizzazz, Denfeld's Wryott Gerson, who was second in the triple jump and third in the long jump at the 2018 Class AA state track and field meet, produced the play of the night when he out-jumped three Lumberjack defenders to snag a Shea heave for a 26-yard second-quarter TD.
Duluth Denfeld 0-6-0-6—12
C — Markus Pokornowski 3 run (Elijah Benson kick)
DD — Wryott Gerson 26 pass from Kade Shea (kick failed)
C — Andre Peters 9 run (Benson kick)
C — Pokornowski 37 run (Benson kick)
C — Alex Leuzzo 65 run (Benson kick)
C — Peters 9 pass from Riley Leslie (kick failed)
DD — Austin Broska 9 run (run failed)