Cloquet wills itself into section final
November 4, 2022
If someone had told the typical high school football fan that the Lumberjacks would beat the No. 1 Section 7AAAA seed in a semifinal game, they may have rattled off a list of reasons that idea was crazy.
The ’Jacks had lost 27-14 to the Thunderhawks in mid-September. Grand Rapids entered the semifinal undefeated and their QRF ranking was second in the state, while Cloquet had three losses and a QRF state ranking of 21. On top of that, the game was in Grand Rapids, so the odds were stacked for a Thunderhawks win.
“Yeah, a lot of people didn’t think we could win,” said Cloquet coach Jeff Ojanen. “We believed we could, and that’s what counted.”
Not only did Cloquet win, it throttled the formerly undefeated team and came away with a 42-15 victory.
From the outset it appeared as if it would be a tight game. Cloquet scored first on a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Reese Sheldon midway through the first quarter. Unfortunately, the ’Jacks were unable to convert the extra point kick as they led 6-0. The Thunderhawks responded with just 41 seconds remaining in the first quarter when Jacob Troumbly raced in from 23 yards out. Grant Chandler tacked on the extra point kick and it was 7-6 to Grand Rapids. That was the last time the Thunderhawks held the lead.
“After they scored, our guys just took control of the game,” said Ojanen.
That was putting it mildly.
With 10 minutes, 19 seconds remaining before halftime, Alex Omenge slammed in from a yard out to put Cloquet ahead 14-7 after a 2-point conversion run by Carter Horvat.
At the 5:05 mark it was Kollin Bonneville plunging in from the 1-yard line, with Cooper Ellena booting the extra point for a 21-7 lead.
Then lightning struck again for Cloquet as Reese Sheldon hit Ellena for a 32-yard touchdown pass and catch, making it 28-7 after the Ellena extra point kick. Ellena’s touchdown catch was a highlight reel catch and one not often seen outside of the professional or top college ranks.
“That is maybe the best catch I’ve ever seen in high school,” Ojanen said. “The defender was interfering with him and the referee threw a flag, but Cooper was able to one-hand the catch and somehow come down with the ball and hang on to it.”
Leading by 21 points at halftime, the Lumberjacks didn’t let up in the third quarter. First it was quarterback Sheldon who zipped in from 34 yards away. Then Blair Chartier bolted in from the 10-yard line. Ellena hit both conversion kicks as the ’Jacks sent the game into running time by taking a 42-7 lead after three quarters.
“Our line dominated on both sides of the ball,” Ojanen said. “I thought our offensive coach (Kyle Wordleman) had a great game plan and our guys took advantage of what they were doing on defense.”
Grand Rapids scored a late touchdown, but it was far too late and the Lumberjacks were on their way to a championship game matchup Friday, Nov. 4.
“Our guys were confident in their ability to play well, and they did,” Ojanen said. “None of the guys doubted what we could do, and they put it all together.”
Cloquet rolled up 354 yards of offense compared to just 180 yards for Grand Rapids. The ’Jacks had 21 first downs for the game compared to just 12 for the Thunderhawks. Sheldon led the Cloquet rushing attack with 151 yards rushing on 15 attempts for an average of 10.1 yards per carry.
Defensively, Marco Mayorga led the team with 6.5 tackles, while Alex Omenge and Carter Horvat had 5.5 and 5 tackles, respectively.
Now, the Lumberjacks will play for a state tournament berth Friday night against another team that beat them this season: No. 3 seed North Branch.
“We lost to them at their place, but it was a good game and our guys know that we can play with anyone if we play a good game,” Ojanen said. “We have to stay away from turnovers and penalties and just continue to build on how we played against Grand Rapids. At the beginning of the year you just want the chance to play for a state tournament, and now we have it. The boys will be ready.”
Game time is 7 p.m. Friday night at North Branch. The game will be carried on radio locally by WKLK-AM 1230.