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Minnesota state football quarterfinals: PA and MLA in great shape

When Pipestone Area head football coach Clay Anderson was asked to recall the Arrows' first football meeting this year with Blue Earth Area, he sounded as if he didn't want to remember it at all.

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The Mountain Lake Area Wolverines show off their hardware after winning the Section 3A 9-Man championship and, with it, entry into the Minnesota state high school tournament. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

When Pipestone Area head football coach Clay Anderson was asked to recall the Arrows’ first football meeting this year with Blue Earth Area, he sounded as if he didn’t want to remember it at all.

“An ugly one,” he said. “I remember both teams had a lot of penalties. Just kind of a defensive struggle.”

Indeed it was. Pipestone Area squeaked it out, 7-0.

There will be a rematch. On Friday at New Ulm High School, 10-1 Pipestone Area will square off against 7-4 Blue Earth Area in the quarterfinals of the Minnesota state Class AA football tournament. Game time is 8 p.m.

Fortunately for Anderson and the Arrows, the coach remembers quite a bit more from that regular season meeting. He remembers that the Buccaneers have excellent offensive and defensive lines. He knows that they are well-coached.

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If recent history is any indication, the Arrows are ready for the Bucs. They enter the contest having won six consecutive games, including a 35-18 win over a strong Jackson County Central team that lost to Fairmont in the Section 3AAA title game and a 20-17 overtime win over top-seeded Redwood Valley in the 3AA finals.

Junior quarterback Cody Thompson, described by his coach has a calm, strong-armed signal caller, has tossed 20 touchdown passes this year in following up a sophomore season where he threw for 1,230 yards and 12 TDs. Junior Matt Enger (G/LB), junior Braeden Rieck (WR/DB), senior Tyl Woelber (WR/S) and senior Garrett Ploeger (RB/DE) are the leaders on a team returning to the state tournament after qualifying in 2014 and 2015.

By now, it’s time to recognize Pipestone Area as one of southwest Minnesota’s top high school football programs. Anderson said he has been very pleased at the school’s rapid rebuilding efforts to get back to the top.

This year’s team plays eight juniors on defense and six on offense. The team has improved noticeably since the beginning of the season, said the coach.

“We’ve certainly got a lot of kids who can run. That helps us offensively and defensively,” Anderson said.

Wolverines are fearless Another area team hoping to make something happen in the state tournament is Section 3 9-Man champion Mountain Lake Area. In their section tournament, the fourth-seeded Wolverines brushed aside No. 5 Hills-Beaver Creek and No. 1 Nicollet, then blasted No. 3 Westbrook-Walnut Grove 58-14.

MLA (8-3) returns to the state tournament for the first time since 2012 and is led by senior fullback/linebacker Jeff Wright and junior tight end/defensive end Drake Harder. Veteran head coach Tim Kirk calls Wright “the heart of Wolverine football” while Harder -- at 6-3, 195 pounds -- is a playmaker opposing teams like to key on.

Injuries held MLA back a bit during the early part of the regular season, and players performing in new positions (the offensive line had to be replaced) led to a 3-3 start.

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But the team has won five straight. It’s fast, intelligent and hard-working.

“Fast” may be the key word.

“We always thought that if we could somehow get this team to turf, we could be pretty good,” said head coach Tim Kirk. “They’re catching on with what we’re trying to do, and they’ve bought in.”

The Wolverines are not a physical team. They rely on their quickness. The offense is very balanced; the defense gets to the ball quickly by stunting and squeezing through gaps.

In the state 9-Man quarterfinals, Mountain Lake Area will open against Section 2A champion Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (9-2) Friday at 5 p.m. at New Ulm High School. R-T-R is making its first state appearance since 1990 and struggled through an 0-8 campaign just two seasons ago.

In a Sept. 22 regular season matchup, MLA defeated R-T-R 26-22.

Kirk describes the Knights as a more physical team than his own -- disciplined on defense.

“They stay in their spots,” he said Tuesday.

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“They’re much better (than in that first meeting). And I like to think we’re much better,” said Kirk, who also said that turnovers may become the difference in Friday’s game.

Lee propels Tigers Other regional squads appearing in the state tourney are Minneota and Wabasso in Class A, Fairmont in Class AAA and Marshall in Class AAAA.

Minneota contends with Mahnomen at noon Saturday at Alexandria Area High School and Wabasso plays Bethlehem Academy at 1 p.m. Saturday at New Ulm. Wabasso averages 428.5 yards of offense in 2017, and its first-team defense has allowed only eight touchdowns all season.

Fairmont, which upended Jackson County Central for the Section 3AAA title, plays Jordan at 3 p.m. Saturday at Prior Lake High School.

Marshall opens with South St. Paul Friday at 7 p.m. at Shakopee High School. The Tigers average more than 471 yards of offense per game, and running back Jefferson Lee has carried for 1,619 yards and scored 31 touchdowns.

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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