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Fresh off a victory over defending state champion Triton, Luverne looks to keep rolling against Pierz

WORTHINGTON -- Even after a victory over Triton, there isn't much time for the Luverne Cardinals to celebrate.

"Obviously, we're feeling good after beating the defending state champions," Luverne head coach Todd Oye said. "We also realize that the four teams left are very talented, and any of the four could win it."

The Cardinals (11-1) will face Pierz (11-1) at 5:45 p.m. today in the Class AA semifinal game in the Metrodome.

"Pierz is an excellent football team," Oye said. "They have a lot of speed. Defensively, they bring a lot of challenges and don't give up very many points. They can find your weakness and expose it in a hurry."

Pierz brings a team that has played in the dome four of the last five years, while Luverne lost to Triton in last year's Prep Bowl.

The Pioneers advanced to today's game with a 44-14 victory over Moose Lake/Willow River, while Luverne defeated the Cobras 10-7.

"Moose Lake came in and wanted to run the ball," Pierz head coach Leo Pohlkamp said. "No one had stopped them all year, and we had nine people in the box to stop their running game. We were able to stop them early in the game and got them to throw."

Statistically, Pierz brings a balanced attack. Quarterback Scott Jason has completed 93-of-174 passes for 1,234 yards, while Matt Woitalla has rushed for more than 1,200 yards.

"I like to believe that we can run the ball and pass the ball, too," Pohlkamp said. "We're just going to do what we do best."

For Luverne, stopping the run first will be key.

"They will pass if you bring too many people to the line of scrimmage," Oye said. "They can throw it, and they have tremendous team speed. We're going to have to make some adjustments to stop them, there's no doubt about it."

The Luverne defense is led by Kyle Heronimus (87 tackles) and Zach Olson (75 tackles). When the Pioneers put the ball in the air, Jeremy Hoff has 18 career interceptions and will contest any pass.

However, for the Cardinals to be victorious, the battle in the trenches may determine the outcome.

"Up front will be key. We need to make sure we force them into a passing game, so they can't run at will," Oye said. "We'll try to dictate the tempo a little bit if we can by getting first downs and hope our defense does a good job of forcing them into punting situations and win the battle of field position."

Luverne will also use a balanced attack to move down the field.

Hoff leads the Cardinals with 750 yards passing and has also gained 518 yards on the ground.

"Their quarterback is pretty athletic," Pohlkamp said. "They have good size up front; they can throw the ball and run the ball.

"So hopefully, we can slow them down, but we have to contain their quarterback," Pohlkamp continued. "It looks like he can run the ball very well, too."

Phil Paquette leads the rushing attack with 1,070 yards, while fullback Mitch Bauman has 451 yards on the ground.

With the multiple ways the Cardinals can beat an opponent, a solid defensive game will be crucial for Pierz.

"We definitely have to come up with another defensive game," Pohlkamp said. "They block well and come off the ball well. In the winning drive, they were knocking Triton around. They were opening some nice holes and were able to run the ball before going down and kicking the winning field goal."

While Luverne will look to use its power, Pierz brings a quick team to the Dome.

"They're not going to give up a lot of big plays because of their team speed on defense," Oye said. "They have a lot of guys playing both ways, so that transfers to the other side of the ball, too."

The Cardinals have created 18 more turnovers than their opponents, so just like any other game, Luverne will have to eliminate mistakes.

"We need to not turn the ball over and get rid of our penalties," Oye said. "We're also going to have to pass the ball a little better."

Luverne passed for 95 yards on just three completions against Triton.

But Oye expects another defensive battle.

"It's going to be another defensive game," Oye said. "A lot of times in the state tournament, the offenses are able to score some points because they are not familiar with each other."

With both teams having earned their spot in this game, any of the four teams left have a chance to be crowned state champions.

"There are four good teams left, and even the teams that are out are very good," Pohlkamp said. "That's what people don't realize, only one will be state champion, but the eight teams that got to state are very good teams."

The winner will play in the Prep Bowl at 4 p.m. on Friday in the Metrodome.