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B.E. Area to face Chatfield in Class AA state quarterfinal

STATE-BOUND BUCS — Members of the Blue Earth Area Bucs football team kicking off the Class AA state quarterfinals against the Chatfield Gophers at 7 p.m. tonight at Rochester Mayo High School’s field in Rochester include, front row (left to right): Toreahana Jaxon Lowe, Timmy Nagel, Carson Sturtz, Cale Borris, Joe Frundt, Gage Barker, Jose Salinas, Carter Rosenau, Tristan Hanson, Eli Blagg, Payton O’Hara, Jacob Grandgenett, Matthew Klabunde, Kade Gaydon, Levi Osborn, Gavin Hledik, Hunter Viland, Brayden Rhey, Omar Gomez and Wyatt Hoffmann. Middle row: Anthony Vargas, Carlos Rodriguez, Dakota Mitchell, Caleb Langager, Cooper Peterson, Noah Johnson, Parker Meyers, Kyren Sunken, Colton Hubly, Soren Fering, Nick Nelson, Austin Stauffer, Alain Gonzalez, Blair Lunz, Blake Sonnek and Branson Hauskins. Back row: Carson Meyers, Zach Benson, Emanuel Granillo, Jeremy Mack, Will Allis, Nick Barke, Cory Kitchel, Noah Dahl, Abram Kokos, Ashton Lloyd, Jack Norman, Isaiah Cornelio, Sterling Madson, Ethan Oppedal, Max Loge, Will Bromeland, Kaden Osborn, Joe Bell and Devin Reeves. Not pictured: Nicholas Gambell, Mateaus Sanchez, Jamie Johnson and Chase Gambell. (Photo by Greg Abel)

BLUE EARTH — The Blue Earth Area Buc football team plays the defending state champion Chatfield Gophers in a Class AA state quarterfinal at 7 p.m. tonight at Rochester Mayo High School’s field.

“They like to run the ball,” said BEA head coach Randy Kuechenmeister. “They have a very good quarterback/ running back (6-foot, 195-pound Sam Backer) who is hard to tackle. Their line isn’t gigantic, but fast. We have to try to control their running game. We know we won’t stop it, but we have to contain it.

“We look forward to the opportunity of playing in the state tournament. It’s exciting for our players.”

The Bucs enter the game with a 9-2 record and a three-game winning streak, including last week’s 44-20 Section 2 championship game victory over previously-unbeaten St. Clair/Mankato Loyola.

In that game, the Bucs controlled the time of possession as Parker Meyers rushed for 118 yards, Noah Johnson ran for 94 yards and Ashton Lloyd rushed for 67 yards. All three ran for a touchdown and Lloyd threw three touchdown passes — two to Colton Hubly.

The Bucs put 22 points on the board in the fourth quarter.

Lloyd’s other receiving options, besides Hubly, include Austin Stauffer, Abram Kokos and Jack Norman, who caught an 80-yard TD pass in the section championship game.

The Bucs will use what the Gophers’ defense allows, whether it is on the ground or through the air, but Kuechenmeister said he thinks the Gophers will try to stop the run.

Defensively for the Bucs, William Allis, Nicholas Nelson, Lloyd and Meyers bring the thunder. The other players feed off their immense intensity. Each of the four can get after the quarterback or drill a running back behind the line of scrimmage for a loss.

Defensive backs Soren Fering, Kokos, Norman and Johnson bring consistency to the position.

Zachary Benson, Isaiah Cornelio and Hubly help the Bucs’ defense allow only 20.8 points per game this season.

Blue Earth Area is making its ninth state appearance, with its last trip coming in 2019. BEA won the 2012 Class AAA state championship with a perfect 13-0 record, beating Rochester Lourdes 30-7 in the finals.

The Chatfield Gophers bring a 10-0 record into the game. In fact, the Gophers are riding a 23-game winning streak. The Gophers’ last loss was 31-6 to Plainview-Elgin-Millville back on Sept. 3, 2021.

In 2021, Chatfield defeated West Central Area/Ashby 14-13 in the Class AA state championship game.

In that game for the Gophers, quarterback Parker Delaney scored on a 6-yard run and safety Carter Daniels returned a fumble 31 yards for a score.

Daniels had a game-high 11 tackles and two fumble recoveries in that game and he is back to help lead the Gophers’ defense this season.

Other defensive highlights in the state title game include cornerback Isaac Erding’s two interceptions. He will also be on the field tonight.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself and we know we have pressure on the program to win, but once the kids get out on the field, all of that goes away and it’s about playing football,” Chatfield head coach Jeff Johnson said.

Johnson is in his 17th year at Chatfield and has a 110-62 overall record en route to a .640 winning percentage.

The Gophers’ defensive leader is inside linebacker Kailan Schott. The Gophers’ Carter Daniels and Eli Hopp are in the secondary and have experience, while Luke Carrier and Drew O’Connor are other top defenders with experience.

“We have experienced players, which helps.” Johnson said. “We have to be in position to stop our opponent every play, which I’m confident our players can do.”

The run-heavy Chatfield squad rushed for 143 yards in last year’s state title game. Kailan Schott was the leading runner for the Gophers, gaining 71 yards on 10 carries, while Delaney had 48 yards rushing on 13 attempts.

“We played in a difficult section with good teams in it, so we feel good about going onto the state tournament,” Johnson said. “Every team is good at this point, so we have to be ready and play well to win.”

This season, the Gophers score 40 points per game on offense and give up only 9.4 points per game on defense.

Backer is the Gophers’ top option. He rushed for 208 yards, including a 99-yard TD run in the third quarter of their 10-8 Section 1 championship win over Caledonia last week. He carried the ball 21 times and threw only five passes, completing one for nine yards.

The Gophers had only five receptions for 67 yards in the 2021 state title game.

“We like to run the ball and it’s something we’re successful doing,” Johnson said. “We’ve seen a lot of different defensive schemes to stop us. That helps us. We have wide receivers who can catch the ball.”

Chatfield brings a rich state champion pedigree into the 2022 state tournament. Chatfield won the Class C state championship in 1994, 1995 and 1996, plus won the Class AA state title in the 2013 and last year. This is Chatfield’s 10th trip to the state tournament.

Of this year’s eight-team state tournament field, four teams — Chatfield, Barnesville, Moose Lake/Willow River and Eden Valley-Watkins — made the 2021 state tournament field.

The other three quarterfinal games pit Jackson County Central (11-0) against Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (9-2) at St. Anthony Village High School, Moose Lake/Willow River (9-1) against Barnesville (10-0) at St. Cloud Tech High School, and Eden Valley-Watkins (10-0) against Sauk Centre (7-3) at Monticello High School.

All games kick off at 7 p.m. tonight.

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