BLUE EARTH - Randy Kuechenmeister and Mike Jordahl have engineered near carbon copies of the prototype Final Four state football qualifier.
The prep gridiron architects will put their respective blueprints to the test when Kuechenmeister's No. 2-ranked Blue Earth Area Bucs (11-0) square off against Jordahl's No. 5-ranked Perham Yellowjackets (10-1) in today's 4:30 p.m. Class AAA state semifinal at the Metrodome.
"After watching the film, both of our teams are very similar in what we run on both sides of the ball," said Jordahl, who guided the Yellowjackets to back-to-back state appearances in just his third year as Perham's head coach. "Our personnel match up size-wise, so it'll be interesting to see how it goes."
ELUSIVE RUNNER — Blue Earth Area flanker David Franta (5) accelerates out of St. Croix Lutheran defender Dan Mackenthun’s grasp and sprints toward the goal line for a touchdown during last Saturday’s Class AAA state quarterfinal football game at Panther Stadium in Lakeville. Franta and the Bucs square off against the Perham Yellowjackets in the state semifinals at 4:30 p.m. today at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Photo by Leanna Becker
Jordahl's pre-game analysis proved as accurate as a pass from Perham senior quarterback Jordan Hein to leading receiver Eric Brauch.
Hein, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder, represents one of the state's top triple-threats out of the backfield. The Yellowjackets' record-holder in numerous offensive categories topped the high-octane spread attack in both rushing - 1,480 yards and 20 touchdowns - and passing - 74 of 131 completions for 1,050 yards and 13 TDs - prior to last week's 42-8 state quarterfinal victory over Esko.
Hein, a highly-touted Division I and II football recruit, along with 6-3, 200-pound junior fullback Payton Jordahl, produced two TDs each to stake Perham to a 28-0 lead over Esko by halftime.
"Opposing teams put a spy on him (Hein) and that's quite a compliment to him as a player," said Mike Jordahl. "He runs so hard that our coaching staff has given him the green light to go whenever he sees green grass."
With as many as 30 Division II or higher scholarship offers on the table, Hein has impressively kept his eye on the ultimate prep prize.
"He told me that until he graduates from here, I'm a Yellowjacket and staying focused on my high school football career," said Mike Jordahl.
While Hein will likely take the next step in his outstanding career by making a collegiate choice after Thanksgiving, Blue Earth Area fans are grateful that quarterback Kysten Zierke has one year remaining at the prep level.
Like Hein, the 6-0, 205-pound Zierke is a master multi-tasker between the chalked lines, evolving into a lethal offensive weapon this fall after starting only on defense in helping guide the Bucs to the 2011 Class AA state quarterfinals.
The hard-charging Zierke tops the maroon-and-gold statistical charts in both rushing - 868 yards and 18 TDs on 159 totes - and passing - 64 of 136 for 949 yards and nine more scores.
"You will definitely see two of the best overall quarterbacks in (today's) game," said Kuechenmeister, who engineered the program's first-ever back-to-back state appearances and fifth overall bid. In fact, Kuechenmeister's crew became only the second Buc roster to reach the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
"I was an assistant coach to Bob Martig during the first time we reached the state semifinals back in 1990," said Kuechenmeister.
Now, both Kuechenmeister and Jordahl will look to reach their first-ever Class AAA state championship by utilizing comparable personnel in critical game situations.
Mike Jordahl will turn to fullback Payton Jordahl, his son, to complement Hein out of the Perham backfield, while Kuechenmeister will utilize hard-nosed fullback Carter Hanson as a jack-of-all-trades.
Payton Jordahl had generated a No. 2 team-best rushing total of 543 yards and four TDs prior to last week's state quarterfinal performance. The tackle-breaking Jordahl also is the Yellowjackets' top tackle-maker on defense.
"He's a workhorse. As a father and a coach, I'm proud to say that he's highly self-motivated," Mike Jordahl said in reference to his son. "Like Jordan, he's a good student in the classroom, and football is his passion."
While Payton Jordahl leads Perham's stingy 5-3 defensive scheme with 92 tackles to complement two interceptions on the season, the tenacious Hanson tops Blue Earth Area's Class AAA-leading 4-3 defense with 106 tackles and four fumble recoveries, including two during the Bucs' 21-12 victory over 2011 state champion St. Croix Lutheran during last Saturday's state quarterfinals.
"He has led us in tackles over the last three years, but his stats don't measure up to what he means to our team," Kuechenmeister said in reference to his senior middle linebacker.
Like Payton Jordahl, Hanson can either generate yards off of carries (506 yards and six TDs), catch a pass (eight receptions for 120 yards) or create valuable running room for a teammate via a path-clearing block.
But the similarities in key personnel do not stop there as Blue Earth Area split end Isaac Darrington and Perham's Brauch each stand 6-4 and have outstanding vertical leaps. Brauch has garnered a team-best 23 receptions for 326 yards and five TDs, while Darrington has made 21 catches for 383 yards and five scores to top the Bucs.
Defensively, Perham and Blue Earth Area have posted similar points-allowed-per-game averages - 15.5 to 10.1, respectively - behind unsung hard-working frontline tacklers in the Bucs' Greg Claeys and Micah Twedt, along with the Yellowjackets' Austin Erickson and Hayden Sturdevant.
Blue Earth Area enters today's state semifinal with a 34.5-point scoring clip en route to the No. 4 spot in the QRF rankings, while Perham averages 31.2 points per outing and holds down the No. 5 spot in the QRF rankings.
So, what will be the decisive factor in a game between a pair of closely-matched teams?
Both coaches agreed - execution and minimizing mistakes.
And what about the added pressure of playing inside the famed Metrodome?
"It's still a football field and it's still a hundred yards long. It'll be warmer than we're used to, so we'll have to make sure everyone stays hydrated," said Kuechenmeister. "Our focus will be on the game and not on the Dome."
"We know once we've reached the Dome, our competition gets bigger and better," said Mike Jordahl. "It's just like our coaching staff told our players last week. Think of three things before you take the field. One, respect the game of football and our opponents; two, get better every quarter of every game every week; and three, have fun. If you take care of one and two, then three's covered."