MINNEAPOLIS - Blue Earth Area safety David Franta and the Buc defensive unit utilized visualization drills throughout the week to prepare for facing highly-recruited Perham quarterback Jordan Hein.
The pre-game strategy paid huge dividends as Franta and the Bucs' smothering defense slammed the brakes on Hein and the Yellowjackets' vaunted rushing attack during Saturday's Class AAA state football semifinal at the Metrodome.
Franta, outside linebacker Kysten Zierke and defensive company limited Perham - which averaged 252.8 rushing yards through the season's first 10 games - to just 54 yards on 31 carries, including 31 from Hein on 14 totes.
RUSHIN’ — Blue Earth Area fullback Carter Hanson rushes past Perham defenders Cole Schmitz (42) and Austin Erickson (9) in the Class AAA state semifinal Saturday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The Bucs will play Rochester Lourdes at 1 p.m. Saturday in the state championship. Photo by Leanna Becker
Franta and Zierke combined for 17 tackles defensively, while the junior tandem also spearheaded Blue Earth Area's four-pronged ground game that produced 288 yards.
Franta generated 65 yards and a game-best three touchdowns on only eight carries, while Zierke pounded out a game-high 109 rushing yards to help the Bucs' vision quest become a reality via a 31-21 victory over the Yellowjackets.
No. 2-ranked Blue Earth Area (12-0) advances to face No. 1-rated Rochester Lourdes (13-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, at the Metrodome in Minneapolis for the Class AAA state championship.
Lourdes assembled a second-half comeback to defeat No. 6-ranked Annandale, 20-16, during Saturday's other state semifinal clash inside the Dome.
"The coaches gave us (Buc defenders) a yellow square with the No. 7 (Hein's jersey) on it, and had us focus on stopping him," said Franta, who garnered eight tackles in the state semifinal.
While Blue Earth Area's stingy defense put the clamps on Perham's running game, Hein did display his strong and accurate arm by completing 14 of 24 passes for a game-high 205 yards and one TD.
"He's quite an athlete and a dangerous quarterback to defend. To contain him (Hein) on the ground was the key," said Buc mentor Randy Kuechenmeister, whose lineup earned the program's first-ever appearance in the Prep Bowl championship.
While middle linebacker Carter Hanson, who delivered six stops on the game, and Blue Earth Area's defense held Perham's offense in check, the Bucs' offensive line - Christian Haugh, Seth Anderson, Garrett Christensen, Chris Ramos and Kellen Jacobs - created Swiss cheese-like holes in the Yellowjackets' defense.
After forcing Perham to punt on the heels of six snaps, Blue Earth Area used five carries to hammer out 40 of its 73-yard scoring drive. Hanson, who contributed 69 yards on 10 totes, twisted and turned for an 8-yard gain to open the march before flanker Gus Phillips slashed his way to 10 more.
Zierke then broke tackles to fuel a 16-yard run to reach Perham territory at the 39. Three plays later, Zierke displayed his accurate touch by lofting a screen pass to Hanson, who weaved his way 33 yards to the end zone. Felix Harseim kicked the PAT to stake the Bucs to a 7-0 lead with 7:04 left in the opening quarter.
Hein quickly went to the airwaves to counter for the Yellowjackets, firing a 46-yard spiral to split end Tyler Glines on third-and-8 to reach Blue Earth Area's 23.
Junior fullback Payton Jordahl covered the rest of the distance on three carries, capped by a 9-yard scoring blast up the middle. Nick Bahls kicked the PAT to even the score at 7-all with 5:03 remaining in the first frame.
"We thought we wanted to try to run the ball today, and like we've done all season, we had a number of people contribute," said Kuechenmeister, whose lineup received 69 rushing yards from Hanson and 54 more from Phillips.
After a pass interference penalty on Perham moved Blue Earth Area to its own 47 during the ensuing series, Hanson plowed through defenders for a 20-yard gain. The fleet-footed Franta then wheeled around the right side, broke a couple of tackles and sprinted 33 yards for the TD. Harseim's kick doubled the Bucs' lead to 14-7 with 3:33 left in the first.
Blue Earth Area defensive end Steven Plocker then delivered a pivotal stop when Perham faked a punt on fourth-and-3 during the next series. Plocker dropped the punter at the original line of scrimmage to take over on downs.
Zierke's 11-yard pass to split end Isaac Darrington helped set up Harseim's 27-yard field goal to extend the Bucs' margin to 17-7 with 9:01 left in the half.
The Yellowjackets answered by assembling a 60-yard scoring drive, fueled by Eli Beachy's 26-yard halfback option pass to Glines. Hein later capped the march by lofting a 12-yard TD pass to Eric Brauch before an errant PAT kick left Perham trailing 17-13 with 4:38 left before intermission.
Blue Earth Area's offense then scored for a fourth consecutive time by putting together a 12-play, 77-yard drive to establish an 11-point lead by halftime.
Zierke's punishing 22-yard rumble along the Buc sideline reached the 5 before Franta accelerated through the middle for six more points.
Harseim's kick made it 24-13 with only 20 seconds left before the break.
Franta, Phillips and Zierke combined on the ground to chew up real estate as Blue Earth Area punched home another TD during the initial drive of the third quarter.
Franta took Zierke's pitch on a sweep around right end and reached the pylon on another 5-yard run before Harseim's PAT kick made it 31-13 with 9:17 left in the third.
Hein and Perham managed to manufacture one fourth-quarter scoring drive through the air, but never truly threatened for the final 11:23 of regulation.
Hein completed strikes of 35, 9 and 17 yards to Glines, Josh Still and Beachy, respectively, to set up his own 1-yard TD plunge.
Hein then completed a 2-point conversion pass to Brauch to inch within 10.
Zierke, who recorded a game-best nine tackles, halted Hein's progress during the Yellowjackets' next-to-last sequence before Phillips sacked Hein for a 7-yard loss on third-and-3 with only 1:20 remaining in the game.