by Adam Gruenewald
On a second quarter sequence emblematic of the speed and talent of top-ranked Minneapolis North, quarterback Azerick Rodgers, who started the drive with an interception, kept the ball from the Mayer Lutheran 34-yard line, darted amongst several defenders and forced several missed tackles before getting down to the 11-yard line.
On the very next play, Rodgers threw a picture-perfect corner fade pass to fellow senior Issac Johnson, who jumped high among a pair of Crusaders defenders for the touchdown. After Rodgers found Johnson again for the 2-point conversion for good measure, the Polars were up 32-12 with 4:28 left in the second quarter and were in complete control of the game.
Rodgers later found Taylor Johnson for a 18-yard score as the Polars were up 40-12 at halftime, before cruising to a 46-12 section 4A final win over Mayer Lutheran at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud on Saturday, ending the Crusaders season.
Mayer Lutheran head coach Dean Aurich said the speed of North players made the difference in the contest.
“Their team speed is really good and we knew it,” said Aurich. “We just had to attack and it’s tough.”
The game marked the third straight year that North eliminated Mayer Lutheran in the playoffs.
With Mayer Lutheran seeking an upset the game started in surprising fashion as the Crusaders defense capitalized on a mistake by North on the opening kickoff as the Polars started on their own 1-yard line.
After forcing a short punt, including a key 3rd-and-2 run stop, the Crusaders took over on the Polars 18-yard line and executed a short touchdown drive with Matt Menth powering in the 2-yard touchdown for a 6-0 lead.
“We had a great break at the beginning and thought we could get into it,” said Aurich. “They are good and you have to give them credit. They are rated number one for a reason… they deserve to keep moving,”
Not to be outdone, North scored four unanswered touchdowns as Rodgers took control of the game, rushing for a 21-yard score, passing to Issac Johnson for a 17-yard score on a 2-play 53-yard drive and connecting with Nasir El-Amin for a 67-yard touchdown, and keeping it for a 16-yard touchdown and a 24-6 lead with 10:14 to go in the first half.
“We had to close the gap and team tackle (Rodgers),” said Aurich. “If you stop your feet they put moves on us and we just can’t simulate that in practice.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Mayer Lutheran was forced into several interceptions.
“When they blitzed our passing attack we had trouble with that,” said Aurich. “If you look at our line we are very young with one senior lineman. It was a young matchup out there.”
The Crusaders did get their second score in the second quarter on a 7-play, 72-yard drive capped by a Brandon Jilek 3-yard touchdown reception from Baden Noennig that was set up by a 29-yard catch and run by Kenson Boelke.
After the Crusaders defense forced a punt, Rodgers got an interception on first down setting up another touchdown.
With the outcome decided after the first half, North was able to tack on 7-yard touchdown run by Jamin Smith in the third quarter.
Notably, both teams displayed good sportsmanship in the blowout with North congratulating Mayer Lutheran after the game during the trophy presentation and Polars runningback Kehyan Porter frequently acknowledging solid tackles by Crusaders defenders throughout the contest.
Seniors for Mayer Lutheran, who won the South Central district with a 7-1 regular season record, include Tyler Wilaby, Dylan Fisher, Brandon Jilek, Mitch Johnson, Jeff Otterstatter and McHayl Diedrick.
“You have to give the credit to our senior leadership, it was awesome this year,” said Aurich. “Being 9-2 is not bad. It was a good year… We got to get over this hump one of these years.”
Minneapolis North (10-0) will open up the Class A state football tournament against Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton at Richfield on Friday at 7 p.m.
Follow Adam Gruenewald on Twitter @adamgruenewald
Minneapolis North 46, Mayer Lutheran 12
MLHS 6 6 0 0 – 12
North 12 28 6 0 – 46
Mayer Lutheran – Matt Menth 1 run (Kick unsuccessful), 8:05
North – Azerick Rodgers 21 run (Run unsuccessful), 7:20
North – Isaac Johnson 19 pass from Rodgers (Pass unsuccessful), 4:37
North – Nasir El-Amin 67 pass from Rodgers (Run unsuccessful), 11:49
North – Rodgers 16 run (Run unsuccessful), 10:14
Mayer Lutheran – Brandon Jilek 3 pass from Baden Noennig (Pass unsuccessful), 8:04
North – Isaac Johnson 11 pass from Rodgers (Isaac Johnson pass from Rodgers), 4:28
North – Taylor Johnson 18 pass from Rodgers (Isaac Johnson pass from Rodgers), :58
North – Jamin Smith 7 run (Pass unsuccessful), 4:40