by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Zimmerman Thunder have a section rematch with Annandale on Friday night and they hope it goes better than last year’s clash.
The top-seeded Thunder (9-1) and No. 7 Annandale (5-5) will duel for the Section 6AAA crown at St. Cloud State, 8 p.m.
Last year, a third-seeded Thunder team lost to No. 6 Annandale 26-14 in the first round.
Thunder coach Tom Kish says this Annandale team, coming off two playoff upset wins, is better than last year’s. Then again, Zimmerman has its best-ever team, too, reaching section finals for the first time.
The Cardinals’ five losses were all close games, including 28-21 to Class 3A’s No. 3 ranked Glencoe-Silver Lake. They’ve won five of their last six. They’ve edged No. 2 New London-Spicer 21-20 and No. 6 Albany 14-9.
“They are a much better team than their record,” said Kish. “They were snakebit at the beginning of year losing some really close games. Over the course of the season things have a funny way of evening themselves out.”
Annandale has scored 14 touchdowns passing, 14 rushing, and three on kick returns (two punts, one kickoff).
The John Kalthoff-to-Brett Ahsenmacher tandem has clicked for 25 receptions, 635 yard and nine touchdowns. Top rushers are Nicholas Anderson with 525 yards and three TD’s and Cooper Gauldin with 491 yards and six TD’s.
“They are a very balanced offense with some nice receivers and a solid QB,” said Kish. “Their offensive line gets off the ball well so they have effective running and throwing attacks.”
The Thunder have beaten Melrose 26-14 and Foley 35-15 in the playoffs.
Not real big, but tough and quick, the Thunder defense has notched 31 sacks, led by Mitch Robinson with 10.5, and 13 interceptions, led by Caleb Lunning with six. Jake Antolak leads with 79 tackles and 13 tackles-for-loss.
Senior quarterback Ethan Lunning is the fulcrum, passing for 1,094 yards and 13 touchdowns while leading the Thunder in rushing with 511 yards and six TD’s.
The Thunder average 169 yards rushing, with Caleb Lunning next with 336 yards and five TD’s, and Brandon Smith 306 yards. Luke Schmit and Caleb Lunning have caught five TD’s each and Collin Ashley three.
To win, Kish said, “We have to limit their big plays on offense and our offense must take care of the football and be able to effectively mix our ground and air attacks.”