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'Jacks rebound with playoff form

Trailing early, Cloquet stormed to the lead Tuesday and opened the Section 7AAAA football playoffs with a 42-12 victory over Denfeld at home.

The game was a rematch of a game that was played in early September. Much like the first game the Lumberjacks struggled a bit in the first half, but then exploded and now have a spot in the sectional semifinals.

The win came after a loss to North Branch Oct. 19 in the final game of the regular season.

After giving up an early 50-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to Denfeld's Deshawn Moore that put the Hunters up 6-0, the Lumberjacks answered with back-to-back scores in the first half. The first score was a 30-yard pass from quarterback Reese Sheldon to wideout Warren Hietala with 4 minutes, 19 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Carter Horvat ran in the 2-point conversion, giving Cloquet an 8-6 lead. Nearing halftime, the 'Jacks struck again when Kollin Bonneville slipped in from the 3-yard line, pushing the lead to 16-6 after the 2-point conversion, also by Bonneville.

"It was big for us to respond after they scored on that long run," coach Jeff Ojanen said. "We've been pretty good about being able to turn the page all year, and we needed that after their big play."

The fact that Bonneville and Sheldon spearheaded that charge was typical of this year's squad on offense.

"I said all year Bonneville is a special player, and he is proving it now that he is healthy this year," Ojanen said. "Sheldon can do so much for us not just on offense, but he was our leading tackler tonight. We made an adjustment on where we played him and it paid off for our defense big time."

After halftime the Lumberjacks came out and dominated the line of scrimmage and punished the Hunters line with the run game. Bonneville rushed for 121 yards and Sheldon ran for 88 more to lead a ground game that picked up 308 yards rushing.

"Our line just wore them down in the second half," Ojanen said. "They play a lot of their linemen on both sides of the ball and it just took a toll on them."

The third quarter began as the second quarter ended - with Cloquet notching big play after big play. First it was Sheldon on a 56-yard touchdown gallop, then it was Brysen McLeod slamming in from the 2-yard line. Cooper Ellena added an extra-point kick after Sheldon's run and the 'Jacks pushed their lead to 29-6.

Early in the fourth quarter, Ellena booted a 28-yard field goal to make it 32-6. It was the first of two field goals by Ellena in the game.

About a minute and half after Ellena's field goal, Dayne Painovich stepped in front of an errant pass and returned the interception for a touchdown, building the lead to 39-6 after the Ellena extra-point boot.

Denfeld responded with a 65-yard touchdown run by DeMario LePre just 40 seconds later, making it 39-12 after the missed 2-point conversion pass.

"Give Denfeld credit," said Ojanen. "They are a young and up-and-coming team that came to our field and played hard. Our kids responded and finished the game like we asked them to do."

Cloquet's final score was another field goal by Ellena - from 25 yards away - making the final score 42-12.

"We have three very good kickers that we have a lot of confidence in," said Ojanen. "Cooper (Ellena) is a very calm and confident kid. We feel if we get within 40 yards, we have a very good chance."

The win means the Lumberjacks have a date with the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks at 6 p.m. Saturday. Grand Rapids had a first-round bye as a result of being the top seed in the section. Cloquet lost to Grand Rapids 27-14 on Sept. 16 in Grand Rapids.

"They are a good team and we know that," said Ojanen. "We'll have to play well, but I like the way our guys are fighting and we have some guys who can make big plays. So, we will see how it all plays out."

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