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B.E. Area to face North in state football quarterfinal

SWARMING DEFENSE — Blue Earth Area’s Nick Frank (55) and Austin Thielfoldt (5) bring down Medford running back Jerone Chavis (22) during last Friday night’s Section 2 football championship game in Janesville. Buc defenders Jaxen Klinkner (22), Davis Sunken (6), Caelan Sanders (21) and Zac Murphy (third from left) assist on the play. Blue Earth Area kicks off a Class AA state quarterfinal against Minneapolis North at 5 p.m. Saturday in Kasson. (Photo by Greg Abel)

BLUE EARTH — The Blue Earth Area football team proved its Section 2 top seeding correct as the Bucs cruised through three playoff games. Class AA No. 8-ranked BEA beat Norwood Young America 34-8, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton 50-22 and finally Medford 59-15.

No. 3-ranked Minneapolis North did the same in Section 4. After a bye, the Polars beat Maple Lake 52-43 and Class AA No. 6-ranked St. Agnes 56-0.

The Bucs (9-2) and Polars (10-0) kick off the Class AA state quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Saturday in Kasson.

Both teams enter state play with experience. This season is the seventh time BEA has gone to the state tournament in the past 10 years, including an undefeated Class AAA state championship team in 2012. This will be the Polars’ sixth consecutive year in the state tournament, including an appearance in the Class A championship in 2015 before winning Class A in 2016.

The Bucs’ defense will have its hands full with a Minneapolis North offense that has scored more than 50 points in each of its past four games.

“They’re fast,” BEA head coach Randy Kuechenmeister said about the Polars. “They’ve got a nice quarterback, an excellent running back and an excellent receiver. We’ve got to try to stay away from giving up the big play. In looking at their games and looking at some of their film, they have a lot of big plays and I think that’s the challenge. Keeping the running back contained and not giving up the big pass play. They’re explosive.”

The three players Kuechenmeister talked about are quarterback Zach Yeager, running back Terrance Kamara and wide receiver Mario Sanders.

Yeager has led the Polar offense, completing 86 of 125 passes on the season for 1,856 yards. Yeager has thrown 24 touchdowns, including seven in two section games, while throwing only one interception. He also ran the ball 52 times for 319 yards and six TDs.

Kamara totaled 180 carries en route to 1,858 yards for a 10.3-yard average, with 28 touchdowns, including six in two section games. Kamara averaged 185 rushing yards per game, while adding seven receptions for 148 yards and a score.

Sanders accounted for more than half of Yeager’s production through the air, catching 41 passes for 1,198 yards and 16 TDs. The sophomore averaged 29.2 yards per catch and 119 per game.

The Bucs’ defense played strong throughout the year, allowing an average of 15.2 points per game and keeping six opponents under 10 points, but the Polars will be BEA’s toughest test yet.

The Bucs will look to their leading defenders in Adam Schavey, who has totaled 72 tackles, and Jack Fundt, who has compiled 44, while defensive backs Caelan Sanders and Koby Nagel led the defense with three interceptions each.

If the Buc defense is able to contain Yeager, Kamara and Sanders, the offense will still have to score.

First-year starting quarterback Gavin Storbeck leads an offense that has scored more than 50 points in its last two games.

Storbeck will continue to look for top receivers Caelan Sanders and Anderson, while Nagel controls the bulk of the offense at running back.

Storbeck fuels the BEA offense with 1,599 yards passing on 112-for-151 completions. He threw 16 touchdowns and averaged 145.4 yards per game.

When the Bucs kept the ball on the ground, Nagel ran through defenses. He has totaled 1,183 yards and 26 TDs, averaging 107.5 yards per game.

Sanders was Storbeck’s No. 1 target this season, catching 41 passes for 616 yards and seven TDs, while Anderson was a key receiver with 38 catches for 607 yards and six scores.

The Bucs’ offense averaged 39.5 points per game.

BEA’s offense will have to contend with a Minneapolis North defense that has allowed more than one score in only one game.

The Polars have held their opponents to an average of 6.9 points per game, which moves all the way to 2.9 without the Polars’ 52-43 win against Maple Lake. North also has shut out half its opponents this season.

“We’ve got to try and sustain drives,” Kuechenmeister said. “We need to get first downs. They’ve (North) got good size and they rally to the ball. We’ve got to try to take care of the ball and keep it moving. Hopefully we can keep their offense off the field.”

Kuechenmeister credited the Bucs’ 2019 success with balance on both sides of the ball. He said how they attack defenses has been able to change and take advantage of what defenses show them.

Overall, this is Blue Earth Area’s eighth state appearance, while Blue Earth High School also qualified for the 1972 state football tournament.

Kuechenmeister said all that success comes from the players.

“Good players, good kids who buy into what’s going on,” Kuechenmeister said. “Obviously, it’s kids making plays, nothing more, nothing less. That’s just what it is. I, like all our other coaches, feel very fortunate to be along for the ride.”

The winner of the Bucs and Polars will face the winner between the No. 5-ranked Paynesville Area Bulldogs and the No. 9-ranked Moose Lake-Willow River Rebels. The Bulldogs and Rebels play at 7 p.m. tonight at North Branch.

On the other side of the bracket, the Osakis Silverstreaks face the No. 2-ranked Barnesville Trojans at Moorhead High School at noon Saturday.

The four-time state champion No. 1-ranked Caledonia Warriors begin their tournament by facing the Pipestone Area Arrows at 7 p.m. tonight at Rochester Mayo High School.

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