by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Keep your motors revved up and you’ll get where you want to go, that’s the credo for the Zimmerman football team.
Eleven tackles behind the line of scrimmage helped the top-seeded Thunder fend off an underdog Melrose team that wouldn’t quit, 28-14, in the Section 6AAA opener Tuesday evening at ZHS.
“Constant motors — that’s what all our coaches keep preaching,” said senior tackle Jake Antolak, who made two sacks (one shared) and three other tackles for loss. “Constant motors. Keep going, going, going until you’ve got the quarterback or whoever got the ball.”
A bruising ground game of 291 yards, led by Cam Korlath with 105, also boosted the Thunder (8-1), who will host Foley (6-2) in the semifinals Saturday at 7 p.m. They beat Foley 27-13 on Sept. 16.
The Thunder suffered three turnovers and eight penalties and were unable to put the Dutch away early when they had the chance, but they survived comfortably.
“If you play like this on Saturday you’ll be packing up your gear on Monday afternoon,” Kish told his team after the game. But he added: “You have earned a playoff win, and it’s only the third one in school history. And you have earned a home second-round home game, which we’ve never had, so be proud of that, too.”
Later, to the press, he reflected: “The effort was there. The kids played hard. We just had uncharacteristic mistakes.”
Junior linebacker Mitch Robinson, who busted through the Dutch line for four of the team’s seven quarterback sacks, said his team’s first conference championship is ancient history now.
“We were back to zero and zero, and we’ve just got to focus on now,” said Robinson.
Added Antolak: “We are ready for this, and we want that (section) championship.”
The Thunder opened the scoring with an almost effortless drive capped by Ethan Lunning throwing a 20-yard scoring pass to Brandon Smith and Alex MacGregor kicking the first of four conversions.
Zimmerman lost a couple fumbles and stalled for a while, but Melrose fumbled at its own five in the second period, Tyler Thiesen recovered for the Thunder and Caleb Lunning bucked up the middle for the TD on the next play.
The Z-Men expanded their lead to 21-0 on a nine-yard run by Korlath with 39 seconds left in the half.
No. 8 seeded Melrose (3-6) came alive with an 82-yard drive to start the second half, capped by Seth Noll’s three-yard run, getting the bulk of their 136 net yards on that one drive.
Zimmerman was back up by three touchdowns when Ethan Lunning scored on a one-yard sneak with two minutes left in the third quarter.
Melrose showed they weren’t done yet with two straight big plays before that quarter ended. Noll intercepted a Lunning pass and rambled 60 yards to the Thunder 25. Alex Welle, their top ballcarrier who was otherwise held in check, busted loose for a 25-yard TD run on the next play, breaking an open-field tackle on the way.
“Their line got fired up in the second half and started working really hard,” said Robinson.
Up by 28-14 now, the Thunder got back in synch for a scoreless fourth quarter. They ran the clock down from six minutes to one minute with a drive keyed by five thrusts up the middle by Smith for 32 yards. MacGregor missed a field goal with a minute left.
That was the only flaw in an excellent kicking performance by MacGregor that also included three deep kickoffs (two for touchbacks) that left the Dutchmen in poor field position.
Melrose coach Vaughn Glesener said he was “proud of the way the kids fought back … We had them on edge in the third quarter, and that was fun.”
About Zimmerman, he said, “”You’ve got to control their front four or five. They get off the ball hard, and their team speed is really good.”
2nd, 3rd seeds beaten
Section 6AAA was regarded to be wide-open and that held true in the first round, as Zimmerman’s 28-14 margin was the most lopsided. The other three games were close to the end, with the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds losing.
No. 4 Foley beat No. 5 Litchfield 21-19, while No. 7 Annandale tripped No. 2 New London-Spicer 21-20 and No. 6 Albany toppled No. 3 St. Cloud Cathedral 26-18. Cathedral had a 6-0 start before losing to Zimmerman, and finished 6-3.
Foley (7-2) will play at Zimmerman on Saturday at 7 p.m. while Albany will host Annandale. The championship game is set for Friday, Oct. 4, at St. Cloud State, 8 p.m.
Zimmerman 28, Melrose 14
Melrose ………… 0 0 14 0 – 14
Zimmerman ….. 7 14 7 0 – 28
Zim – Luke Schmit 20 pass from Ethan Lunning (Alex MacGregor kick)
Zim – Caleb Lunning 5 run (MacGregor kick)
Zim – Cam Korlath 9 run (MacGregor kick)
Mel – Seth Noll 3 run (Trevor Sawyer kick)
Zim – E. Lunning 1 run (MacGregor kick)
Mel – Alex Welle 25 run (Sawyer kick)
Rushing – Zimmerman 49-291, Melrose 41-104
Passing – Zimmerman 2-9-39-1, Melrose 5-14-32-2
Penalties – Zimmerman 8-50, Melrose 2-10
Rushing – Korlath 12-105, E. Lunning 14-71, C. Lunning 4-37, Brandon Smith 9-45, Collin Ashley 10-34
Passing – E. Lunning 2-9-39-1
Receiving – Schmit 1-20, Ashley 1-19
Tackles – Mitch Robinson 13, Jeff Mueller 9, Schmit 7, Jake Antolak 7, E. Lunning 6, Jeremy Sloneker 5, Tony Obinger 5, Tyler Theisen 4, Smith 4
Tackles for loss – Antolak 3, Mueller 1
Sacks – Mitch Robinson 4, Schmit 2, Antolak 1.5, Theisen .5
Interceptions – Smith, C. Lunning
Fumble recovery – Theisen
Punts – Smith 5 for 36.2 average
Rushing – Welle 20-59, Noll 3-35, Isaac Sawyer 14-(-4), Vic Scherping 1-4, Matt Bester 3-0
Passing – I. Sawyer 5-14-32-1
Interception – Noll
Fumble recoveries – Noll, T. Sawyer
Punts – Noll 6 for 27.3 average