Class A state football: Johnson, North drop Tracy-Milroy-Balaton

ST. PETER -- Tyler Johnson was all he was advertised to be and more. The Minneapolis North senior reiterated his commitment to play football for the University of Minnesota next season shortly after Saturday's Class A state quarterfinal against T...

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ZACH HACKER/DAILY GLOBE Minneapolis North quarterback Tyler Johnson (10) eludes the T-M-B defense on his way to a 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter Saturday in St. Peter.

ST. PETER - Tyler Johnson was all he was advertised to be and more.
The Minneapolis North senior reiterated his commitment to play football for the University of Minnesota next season shortly after Saturday’s Class A state quarterfinal against Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. The Panthers found out the hard way why the Gophers are interested in the Polars’ quarterback after he put forth a performance for the ages in a 54-29 North victory.
“We had a gameplan put together to keep him in the pocket, but it just didn’t work,” said Panthers’ co-head coach Derek Flann. “He’s the kind of athlete that you don’t see very often. We got into the backfield and put guys around him, but he kept cutting through and making plays. That’s the majority of their offense right there. We just couldn’t stop it.”
Johnson completed 10-of-22 passes for 276 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran the ball 13 times for 161 yards. If that wasn’t enough, he picked off a pass from the safety position on defense and had another interception called back on a defensive holding penalty.
T-M-B got the opening kickoff and drove down to the North 8-yard line but Tanner Deming-Phelps’ 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked. That gave the ball to the Polars at their own 20 and marked the beginning of the Tyler Johnson Show.
On a read-option, he pulled the ball away from halfback Dallas Griffin and found space to run on the right side. He shimmied and slipped his way through Panther after Panther as he crossed over to the left sideline. Once there, he had nothing but real estate in front of him and ran 68 yards to put North up 6-0.
The T-M-B deficit grew to 12-0 with 3:39 left in the first when Johnson connected with junior wideout Issac Johnson on a go-route for a 37-yard pitch-and-catch.
“We knew that they like to look downfield a lot,” Flann said. “We talked with our backs about staying over the top of their receivers. But when (Johnson’s) running around and extending plays like he did, it’s tough to ask our guys to cover for that long.”
The Panthers’ senior signal-caller - Brett Swenhaugen - proved he had plenty of athleticism himself on the next drive. He took matters into his own hands, doing most of the work on the ground as T-M-B drove 72 yards in just a little more than a minute. Swenhaugen plunged in from a yard out to cut the deficit to 12-7 at the end of one.
On the first play of the second quarter, Tyler Johnson hit Azerick Rodgers on a back-shoulder fade for a 28-yard touchdown pass that put the Polars up 20-7. But the Panthers again looked poised to answer.
A 21-yard completion to Josh Kirk got them deep into North territory before they took a shot at the end zone. Tyler Johnson picked off the pass, but it was called back and T-M-B had new life. On 4th-and-8 from the 25, Swenhaugen threw a pretty pass to Spencer Smith for a touchdown. That too was negated, however, when Smith was flagged for offensive pass interference.
“We had success offensively during the whole game,” Flann said. “But we stalled on our first drive and we had another one end without scoring in the second quarter. We’ve gotta finish drives; especially in games like this.”
Tyler Johnson threw touchdown passes of 32 and 80 yards before the first half was over to give the Polars a 33-7 advantage at the break. On the second of those, he was under heavy duress in the backfield before finding Rodgers free on the left side. The junior juked past a defender and was gone for another long scoring play.
Issac Johnson ran in a 1-yard touchdown on the opening possession of the second half before Rodgers caught an 11-yard TD pass midway through the third. After a Panthers’ fumble - their second turnover of the day - Tyler Johnson hit Issac Johnson again on a 22-yarder that put the Polars on top 54-7.
T-M-B went to the air late in the third and got its offense rolling again. Passes of 15 and 32 yards to Kirk set up an 18-yard scoring strike from Swenhaugen to Smith. That set the score at 54-13 going into the fourth.
There, it was all Panthers. Daulton Carlson picked off an Armon Dalton pass at midfield early in the final stanza. Riley Kirk saw to it that his offense took advantage with a 6-yard touchdown run. Just a couple minutes later, Hayden Sanders corralled a North ballcarrier in the end zone for a safety.
With just a minute to play, the Polars attempted a swing pass in the backfield that fell incomplete. Alertly, T-M-B senior Derek Larson recognized that the pass went backward and scooped it up. He easily ran it back for six to bring the game to its final.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors who have been playing for us for a long time,” Flann said. “Obviously this isn’t the way you want to finish but they’ve had great careers. They’re disappointed now, but in the future when they look back on what they did here they’re going to be awfully proud of it.”
Swenhaugen had a big game to round out his Panthers’ career, completing 16-of-28 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown while also running for a score and 97 yards on 15 totes. Josh Kirk caught six passes for 114 yards while Riley Kirk caught three for 26 to go with 20 yards on the ground. Smith had four receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown.
In all, T-M-B had 326 total yards of offense with 209 through the air and 117 on the ground. The Polars racked up 461 yards – 276 passing and 185 rushing.
Issac Johnson caught six passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns - along with one rushing - with Rodgers hauling in four passes for 128 yards and three scores.
The Polars (11-0 overall) will play undefeated Braham at 8 p.m. Saturday in St. Cloud. T-M-B’s season comes to a close at 10-2 overall. It graduates 10 seniors.
“For a lot of those guys, this is their third year starting and their second state tournament,” Flann said. “They played hard and they played the game the right way. They should be very proud of what they’ve done.”
T-M-B 7 0 6 16 - 29
North 12 21 21 0 - 54

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