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No. 4 B.E. Area hosts No. 8 Luverne in Week 2 grid clash

CLEARING A PATH — Blue Earth Area running back Max Ehrich (2) follows a path cleared by Bucs’ offensive guard Nick Frank (55) and tight end Anders Fering’s block on Jackson County Central linebacker Levi Lindley (9) during last Friday night’s season-opening football action in Jackson. Class AA No. 4-ranked Blue Earth Area plays host to Class AAA No. 8-ranked Luverne at 7 p.m. tonight at Wilson Field in Blue Earth. (Photo by Greg Abel)

BLUE EARTH — It’s only Week 2, and there’s already a clash of state-ranked prep football teams hitting Wilson Field at 7 p.m. tonight in Blue Earth.

The Class AA No. 4-ranked Blue Earth Area Bucs play host to the Class AAA No. 8-rated Luverne Cardinals after the pair of perennial powerhouses kicked off the pandemic-modified six-game schedule with convincing victories last Friday night.

“After the opening (defensive) series, we were able to control the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game,” Blue Earth Area head coach Randy Kuechenmeister said in reference to his Bucs’ 45-14 season-opening win over Jackson County Central at Swearingen Field in Jackson a week ago. “This week’s game presents different challenges for us.

“Luverne is big, physical and aggressive. We’ve got good size up front, but they’re even bigger than us, led by a couple of 270-pounders.”

Center Zach Ahrendt and right tackle Carlton Oftedahl tip the scales at 277 and 267 pounds, respectively, for Luverne head coach Todd Oye’s offensive line, but the collegiate-sized frames do not stop there. Peter Baustian, a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder, fills the right guard position for the Cardinals, with left tackle Connor Overgaard (6-5, 220) and left guard Jamie McCarthy (230 pounds) rounding out the blockers in the trenches.

The Cardinals’ five offensive linemen — which average 244.8 pounds apiece — provided ample pass protection for quarterback Casey Sehr and running room for hybrid back Bailey Cowell as Luverne shut out Pipestone Area, 22-0, in Week 1.

“They predominantly run the ball to help set up their play-action pass,” said Kuechenmeister. “They also run the option, run some off-tackle and also use off-balanced formations to keep the defense off-balanced.

“They try to get Cowell the ball in a variety of ways — out of the backfield, as a slot back and outside as a receiver. He’s dangerous in the open field, and like his teammates, is physical when he runs the ball.”

Cowell generated 86 yards and touchdown runs of 4 and 10 yards, respectively, at Pipestone’s expense last Friday night, fullback Ashton Sandbulte supplied 48 yards — including a 15-yard TD run, while Sehr completed 7 of 14 passes for 115 yards.

But the “undersized” Blue Earth Area blockers’ effectiveness will not be taken lightly by sure-handed linebacker Nathaniel Cole-Kraty and rest of Luverne’s base 4-3 defensive unit.

While the offensive line of right tackle Luke Mertens (6-3, 235), right guard Kean Hicks (5-9, 185), center Luke Norman (6-1, 230), left guard Nick Frank (6-2, 195) and left tackle Vern Johnson (6-1, 225) average a mere 214 pounds per blocker, the front five played integral roles in helping the Bucs convert their first six possessions into TDs against JCC.

“Our guys work hard, and that’s all you can ask out of them. After all these years, you really never know how players are going to match up until game time,” said Kuechenmeister.

Mertens, Hicks, Norman, Frank and Johnson worked in unison to provide a wall of protection for quarterback Gavin Storbeck, who connected on an incredible 12 of 14 passes for 163 yards. Split end Cameron Anderson pocketed four catches for 74 yards and two scores to complement a 75-yard punt return for six more points, while running back Max Ehrich steamrolled his way to a game-best 124 yards and one TD on 16 totes against JCC.

Both Blue Earth Area and Luverne held the edge in turnovers — 2-0 — during last Friday night’s openers, with each team prevailing on the scoreboard during road games.

“Luverne is well-coached, and will represent one of the best teams we’ll see this season,” said Kuechenmeister. “You always want to play good teams during the season to see how you stack up.”

The Bucs and Cardinals did not square off last season, but BEA holds a narrow 3-2 edge during its prior five consecutive clashes with Luverne from 2014-18. The Bucs posted consecutive wins of 31-7, 42-23 and 20-7, from 2014-16, while the Cardinals netted a 22-0 victory in 2017 and a 27-0 decision in 2018.

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