By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
BLUE EARTH —
Last season, Blue Earth Area qualified for the state football playoffs, but when you lose in the quarterfinals, even at a nice stadium like the one at Gustavus Adolphus, you don’t get the true state-tournament experience.
So this season, the goal was Metrodome.
“Getting to the Dome is something you dream about,” BEA senior Carter Hanson said. “It’s going to be cool, but we can’t let it affect our preparation. We need to treat it like it’s just another game and get the job done.”
It might be easy to say, but when the Bucs (11-0) take on Perham (10-1) in the Class AAA semifinals at 4:30 p.m. today at Metrodome, it’s not just another game.
“This means a lot to our kids, to our communities, to our coaching staff,” BEA coach Randy Kuechenmeister said. “Getting to the Dome makes it feel more like a state tournament. It also means you’ve played pretty well.”
The Bucs are coming off a 21-12 victory over St. Croix Lutheran, while Perham defeated Esko 42-8 in the quarterfinals.
BEA, which has five new starters in the offensive line this season, averages 263.9 yards rushing, split among four rushers. Quarterback Kysten Zierke has 868 yards, followed by Gus Phillips at 654, David Franta at 507 and Hanson at 506. Zierke has rushed for 18 touchdowns, while Phillips and Franta each have six.
“Everyone thinks we’re a strong run team,” Hanson said. “But we can pass the ball, too. We like to think we’re pretty balanced.”
Zierke has completed 64 of 136 passes for 949 yards and nine touchdowns, with Isaac Darrington leading the team with 21 catches for 381 yards and five scores.
“We lost quite a few good players (from last year), but the kids we had coming back are excellent leaders,” Kuechenmeister said. “I don’t know if anybody thinks they can make it to the state semifinals when the season begins, but we thought we’d have a pretty good team.”
Perham also is a run-first team, averaging 229.8 yards rushing. Quarterback Jordan Hein leads the team with 1,554 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns, and he’s completed 74 of 131 passes for 1,050 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Hanson is BEA’s top tackler with 44 solo tackles and 62 assists. Franta has 37 solos and 26 assists.
“The defense just has to play as a unit and do your job,” Hanson said. “You have to trust your teammates.”
Kuechenmeister said the experience of the state quarterfinals in 2011 made a difference last week, knowing what to expect and getting over the “just happy to be there” attitude. It motivated the team during the offseason, and those efforts are paying off as the season continues.
Hanson also believes that a midseason victory at St. Peter, which was a top-10 team in the state polls, showed the Bucs that they could be pretty good this season.
“At the beginning of the year, we set our goals high,” Hanson said. “If your goal isn’t to do something at state, I don’t know why you play.”