PREP FOOTBALL: Running at all costs
MINNEAPOLIS -- It may be the fastest high school football game ever played.
At 2 p.m. today, Jackson County Central (10-2) will battle Moose Lake/Willow River (12-0) in an MSHSL Class AA Football State Tournament semifinal contest at The Metrodome in Minneapolis.
Both teams feature potent rushing attacks that could turn each possession into long, time-consuming drives.
The undefeated Rebels have run for 87 percent of their yards (4,610 rushing yards of 5,327 total yards) this season. JCC's attack is more balanced with 58 percent of its yards (2,791 rushing yards of 4,850 total yards) coming on the ground.
Senior running backs Michael Pender and Jake Disterhaupt carry most of the load for Moose Lake/Willow River. Pender has compiled 1,573 yards and 22 touchdowns on 162 attempts in 2012, while Disterhaupt, who is a versatile threat for the Rebels, has run for 1,416 yards and 18 touchdowns on 140 attempts.
"Having two exceptional running backs like Jake Disterhaupt and Michael Pender make it more difficult on other teams defenses because they can not key on just one of them," Moose Lake/Willow River coach Dave Louzek said.
Disterhaupt will provide a unique challenge for the Huskies' defense. During his prep career, he has amassed 4,410 yards and 61 touchdowns on 364 carries (12.1 yards per rush). In addition, Disterhaupt has scored touchdowns in a variety of ways -- receiving (13), kickoff returns (two), and interception returns (one) -- for a total of 77 career TDs.
Mike Gassert (544 yards, six TDs, 73 carries) is the Rebels' third option at running back.
Senior Darrick Vancura, who has gained 542 rushing yards and scored six touchdowns on 60 carries in his last two postseason games, is JCC's main source out of the backfield. This season, he has accumulated 1,624 yards and 21 touchdowns on 214 carries.
Paden Moore (316 yards, nine TDs, 42 carries) and Zach Holm (170 yards, two TDs, 37 carries) provide other rushing options for the Huskies.
The offensive lines will have big roles in determining the outcome. Jackson County Central's five-man front averages 6-feet and 213 pounds, while ML/WR has a line that has allowed the Rebels to gain more than 5,300 yards out of its double-wing formation.
"The teams we face around here try to put extra defenders in the box to stop our running game because they usually don't match up well with the strength and experience of our linemen," Louzek said. "State level teams like JCC match up against our kids much better beacuse all of their athletes are big, strong, and fast."
Jackson County Central has the edge in passing, where senior quarterback Tanner Menke has completed 100 of 198 attempts for 2,022 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Moose Lake/Willow River senior quarterback Tony Adamczak has 35 completions and 717 yards on 65 attempts. He has thrown nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
Senior wide receiver Kyle Luhmann leads the Huskies with 858 yards and six touchdowns on 41 catches. Those totals for yardage and receptions are more than twice as many by any Rebels' wideout. Disterhaupt has hauled in 313 yards and six touchdowns on 12 catches.
"JCC runs a great offense with a physical run game that is complimented by a quick-strike, big-play passing game," Louzek said. "We are going to have to stop their run game with our down linemen and interior linebackers and trust that our athletic defensive backs are able to stay with their receivers in coverage."
On defense, five Moose Lake/Willow River players have 60 or more tackles. They include Brett Hawkins (73 tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery), Gassert (72 tackles, one fumble recovery), B.J. Young (66 tackles, three interceptions, one fumble recovery), Jake Christopherson (62 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery) and Isaac Coil (60 tackles).
JCC counters with three defenders with 82 or more tackles. They are Vancura (133 tackles, two fumble recoveries), Spencer Johnson (118 tackles, one interception) and Matt Schmit (82 tackles, two fumble recoveries). Taylor Christopher adds 35 tackles, but has made four interceptions.
The Rebels, who have a 54-game regular season winning streak, have advanced to the state tournament the last seven seasons.
The Huskies are making their first appearance in the state tournament since winning the Class AAA championship in 2001.
Moose Lake/Willow River advanced to The Metrodome by defeating Hawley 35-22 in a state quarterfinal game Friday at St. Cloud State University.
The 22 points are the most that the Rebels have allowed in any game this season. ML/WR has outscored its opponents 512-149 with two shutouts. It has given up a touchdown or less five times.
Moose Lake/Willow River has scored three or more TDs in all 12 of its games this season.
Jackson County Central defeated Mayer Lutheran 51-20 in a state quarterfinal game Friday at Chaska High School to earn its bid to The Metrodome.
The Huskies have outscored their opponents 484-220, including a 48-0 shutout against Worthington on Sept. 7. JCC, which has allowed a touchdown or less in three games this season, has scored three or more TDs in 11 of its 12 games.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Attempts to contact Jackson County Central coach Tom Schuller were not successful.
DG Sports Editor Jeff Arenz
may be reached at 376-7328.