by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Zimmerman Thunder dominated the second half and shook off a challenge by Big Lake 47-21 in their playoff opener Tuesday evening.
Jeff Mueller led the victory. The senior fullback pounded for 169 yards and three touchdowns in 19 carries. Noah Lunning rushed for 90 yards in nine totes and caught a TD pass from Cam Korlath.
“We had a fast start, and they caught up the end of the half when we had a blown coverage,” assessed Thunder coach Tom Kish. “But we came out after halftime and took it to them. We had some timely passes and our running game was going strong. Our line was opening holes everywhere.”
That offensive line included Cory Jopp, Mitch Robinson, Dustin Neseth Josh Miller, Jeremy Sloneker, and backups Elli Muellenbach and Lee Christopherson.
The No. 3 seeded Thunder (6-3) will duel top-seeded Becker (7-1) in the semifinals on Saturday at 3 p.m. Becker, which had a first-round bye, beat the Thunder 56-22 at home Sept. 21.
Delano (6-3) ousted Mound-Westonka 14-3 and will play at No. 2 seeded Orono (5-3), which had a bye.
The Thunder led 14-0 on TD’s by Muller and Lunning in the first quarter, and the Hornets stormed back in the second quarter with Tyler Halverson hitting Austin Poe for a pair of TD passes.
“Big Lake’s quarterback throws a nice ball, and their No. 12 had some big receptions,” said Kish.
They hooked up for a stunning 81-yard TD on a third-and-30 play as Poe got behind the secondary and hauled in a long toss from Halverson, tying the score.
If the Thunder were shaken by that turn of events just before the half, it didn’t show. They blew it open with three touchdowns in the third quarter.
Andrew Nixon returned the kickoff 48 yards, leading to a 17-yard TD run by Mueller. A long gainer by Noah Lunning set up a three-yard TD plunge by Mueller. Then Korlath, at linebacker, recovered a fumble by Halverson at the Hornet seven, and Nixon scampered for the touchdown from there, opening a 34-14 lead after three.
Korlath and Austin May ran for fourth-quarter TD’s as the Thunder nailed it down. They finished with 348 yards rushing and 63 passing.
The Thunder’s low point of the season was the lopsided loss at Becker, when Bulldog quarterback Tommy Benson threw for 387 yards. Kish said his team is confident they’ll give the Bulldogs a better game this time, as they were missing three defensive backs and a key offensive threat that night.
Zimmerman 47, Big Lake 21
Big Lake ……… 0 14 0 7 — 21
Zimmerman …. 14 0 20 13 — 47
Zim—Jeff Mueller 1 run (Alex MacGregor kick)
Zim—Noah Lunning 5 pass from Cam Korlath (MacGregor kick)
BL—Austin Poe 8 pass from Tyler Halverson (Ben Mitchell kick)
BL—Poe 81 pass from Halverson (Mitchell kick)
Zim—Mueller 17 run (kick failed)
Zim—Mueller 3 run (MacGregor kick)
Zim—Andrew Nixon 7 run (MacGregor kick)
Zim—Korlath 1 run (MacGregor kick)
Zim—Austin May 9 run (kick blocked)
BL—Cody Knaeble 4 run (Mitchell kick)
Rushing — Mueller 19-169, Lunning 9-92, Korlath 13-51, Nixon 6-23, May 4-14, Trent Milless 1-(-1)
Passing — Korlath 4-9-63-1
Receiving — Nick Hasslen 1-18, Lunning 2-30, Trey Gabrielson 1-15
Tackles — Austin Tretbar 9, Mueller 8, Mitch Robinson 8, Lunning 7, Taylor Snow 6, Cory Jopp 4, Cody Thomspon 4
Interception — Milless
Fumble recoveries — Korlath, Trestbar
Forced fumble — Jopp
Sacks — Jopp, Sloneker Robinson, Korlath