by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Zimmerman Thunder like to duke it out, but they like to air it out, too.
Facing a rugged Foley Falcons line, the Thunder took to the air and cruised to a 35-15 victory Saturday evening at home, earning a shot at the Section 6AAA title.
“We knew we had to go to the air to beat them, just like last time,” said Thunder coach Tom Kish. “Their defense is well-coached and they have some big studs up front.”
Ethan Lunning fired touchdown passes to Jake Wilson and Luke Schmit, while Wilson, a wide receiver, also hit Schmit for a touchdown, that one a 72-yarder.
Good things happened in the air on defense, too. Caleb Lunning’s interception and 44-yard return, and Schmit’s interception and 50-yard return, each set up a touchdown in the second half.
“We had guys make some big plays,” said Kish.
The Thunder led by just 14-9 at the half, but expanded that to 35-9 before Foley (7-3) got a late scoring pass.
“They were ready to play. They were jacked up,” said Kish, about Foley. “But one thing we knew was, they had a rough, physical game Tuesday night, and that’s a pretty quick turnaround. So we knew if we could survive their initial surge we could wear them down.”
The Thunder beat Foley 27-13 on Sept. 16, highlighted by two over-the-top strikes from Lunning to Collin Ashley. So the Thunder stayed in that mode for the rematch. They rushed for 128 yards and passed for 202, and had no turnovers.
The Thunder (8-1) play in their first section final against Annandale (5-5) on Friday, 8 p.m., at St. Cloud State. Annandale, seeded No. 7, has beaten New London-Spicer 21-20 and Albany 14-9, both on the road.
Schmit, a 6-foot-3, 170-pound senior, enjoyed a big night in his final home game. He caught six passes for 159 yards, had the pickoff and long runback, and made a quarterback sack.
“That was a great way to end up, on this field,” he said.
The highlight was the trick play that opened the scoring in the second quarter. Lunning heaved a lateral to Wilson on the right sideline, while Schmit was steaming up the field along the sideline. Wilson saw Schmit wide open 40 yards downfield and flung the ball to him. Schmit had two wait a second but made the grab, then outran the Falcons the final 35 yards.
“Jake did a real good job of forcing the ball toward the line,” said Schmit. “He made the cornerback come up, and left me wide open,”
Wilson, who was the Thunder quarterback the first two games of the 2010 season before getting hurt, savored the opportunity to throw.
“We tried it against St. Cloud Cathedral, too, and it didn’t work,” said Wilson. “But they (Foley) didn’t see our Cathredral tape so they didn’t know it was coming.”
Besides throwing his second career TD pass, Wilson also caught his first TD pass, a 17-yarder from Ethan Lunning that gave the Thunder a 14-9 halftime lead with eight seconds left.
In the second half. Ethan Lunning hit Schmit for a five-yard score on a fourth-and-goal, and later scored himself on a two-yard sneak. Ashley had the other TD, a 10-yard scamper around end.
Foley quarterback Cole Nelson hit 17 of 30 passes fir 248 yards and two touchdowns, to Tyler Beehler and Tyler Jensen. Their workhorse back, Andy Lewandowski, was limited to 78 yards in 24 carries as Zimmerman always had a committee to greet him.
This was Zimmerman’s third section semifinal game, and their first victory.
“We’re taking the next step,” said Kish. “This team is different.”
Zimmerman 35, Foley 15
Foley ……………….. 0 9 0 6 – 15
Zimmerman ……… 0 14 7 14 – 35
Zim–Luke Schmit 72 pass from Jake Wilson (Alex McGregor kick)
Fol–Christoff Stirnat 28 field goal
Fol–Tyler Beehler 18 pass from Cole Nelson (kick blocked)
Zim–Wilson 17 pass from Ethan Lunning (MacGregor kick)
Zim–Schmit 4 pass from E. Lunning (MacGregor kick)
Zim–E. Lunning 2 run (MacGregor kick)
Zim–Collin Ashley 10 run (MacGregor kick)
Fol–Tyler Jensen 4 pass from Nelson (pass failed)
Rushing – Zimmerman 47-128, Foley 40-81
Passing – Zimmerman 9-19-202-0, Foley 17-30-249-2
Total yards – Zimmerman 330, Foley 330
Penalties – Zimmerman 5-35 Foley 3-25
Rushing – Taylor Lewandowski 24-78, Nick Lefebvre 10-29, Nelson 3-(-24)
Passing – Nelson 17-30-249-2
Receiving – Beehler 5-103, Jordan Brenny 7-72, Jenson 4-27
Sacks – Lefebvre, Logan Novak
Punting – Lewandowski 6-35.8
Rushing – Caleb Lunning 9-39, Brandon Smith 11-33, Ashley 9-30, E. Lunning 13-25, Jeff Mueller 5-12
Passing – E. Lunning 9-17-130-0, Wilson 1-1-72-0, Ashley 0-1-0-0
Receiving – Schmit 6-159, Wilson 3-41, Ashley 1-2
Tackles – E. Lunning 11, C. Lunning 9, Schmit 9, Mueller 9, Cory Jopp 8, Jake Antolak 7, Smith 7, Evan Bye 6
Sacks – Mueller, Jopp, Schmit
Tackles for loss – Bye 2, Smith, E.Lunning, C.Lunning, Antolak
Interceptions – C. Lunning, Schmit