By Jim Rueda
Free Press Staff Writer
BLUE EARTH — Some schools refer to the crowd as a “12th man,” while others simply call them loyal fans.
At Blue Earth Area, the fans have earned the nickname “Maroon Platoon.”
The Bucs will play for the first state championship in football today when they take on Rochester Lourdes for the Class AAA title at the Metrodome. And there's no doubt the communities that make up the BEA school district will be there en masse, as well.
“Our fan support has been awesome this year,” BEA coach Randy Kuechenmeister said. “It’s been fantastic for our kids.
“Even during the year, we had a loyal fans who traveled to the away games to watch us play. When they’re out there making noise and cheering our players on, it makes a big difference.”
Kuechenmeister said the support has not been confined to just the city of Blue Earth. “It’s been Delavan and Winnebago and Frost and Elmore, too. They’re all behind us.”
The enthusiasm for the football team can be seen in the signs in the windows of local businesses and on the slogans written on car windows. It was also evident in the approximately 2,500 fans Ñ many of whom are alumni living in the Twin Cities area Ñ who showed up at the Dome last week to watch the Bucs win their semifinal game.
Rob Norman, the athletic director at BEA for 17 years, says the support just seemed to grow with every game.
“People would come in to buy presale tickets for the games at the Metrodome, and you could just see their excitement,” he said. “They all had questions; they all want to talk about the team.”
Six fan buses will be making the trek to the Dome this morning, and most of the travelers will be clad in maroon. In the week leading up to the semifinal game, a local business had a one-day sale on commemorative T-shirts and sold more than a 1,000.
“I made 500 of what I call Touchdown Towels, and we sold 500 in a day-and-a-half,” Norman said. “We had a silent auction recently at what we call Buc Night and sold an autographed team football for $1,750.
“All the proceeds from that auction go to help our academic programs. That’s how much our communities are behind our kids.”
Today’s game features the top-ranked teams in the state. Lourdes is rated No. 1, and Blue Earth Area is ranked second. Both teams are 12-0.
“There’s not doubt they’re a good football team,” Kuechenmeister said. “They’re an option run team and are pretty good up front.”
The Eagles could have three 1,000-yard rushers. Griff Slightam leads with 1,150 yards, Kane Carstens has 1,055 yards; and McKay Carstens has 990 yards.
Lourdes has not had to pass a lot, but quarterback Mark Pagel has been effective, completing 33 of 84 passes with four touchdowns and 656 yards. Pagel has thrown four interceptions.
Kurt Bieniek leads the defense with 109 tackles, an interception and two fumble recoveries. Kyle Kapraun has 88 tackles and Khoa Nguyen had 86.
The Bucs counter with an effective ground game, rushing for more than 3,000 yards. Quarterback Kysten Zierke leads the team with 968 yards. Carter Hanson, Gus Phillips and David Franta are also potent running threats.
Zierke has also completed 64 of 136 passes for 1,009 yards and 10 touchdowns. Hanson has 106 total tackles with four fumble recoveries. Franta is next with 63 tackles.
“I think we’re pretty comparable size-wise,” Kuechenmeister said. “They might be a little bigger than us at the D-tackles, but otherwise I think we’re similar.
“I expect it to be a hard-hitting game. We just have to go out and play the best we can and see what happens.”