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Football: Pine Island controls the line in win over Z-M

Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Ellis Hirman takes off for a 40-yard gain during Friday's 41-14 loss to Pine Island. Hirman also caught a touchdown pass in the defeat. (Republican Eagle photo by Kyle Stevens)

In this era of spread offenses, the line of scrimmage can get lost among quick-hitting passes to the flat and long bombs down the field. But those few yards on either side of the ball are where games are still won or lost.

“I knew it was going to be that whoever controlled the line of scrimmage was going to win the game tonight, and Pine Island did that,” said Z-M head coach Willie Rauen. “They came to play and kind of took it to us.”

Pine Island certainly controlled the line play, dominating with the power run game while holding Zumbrota-Mazeppa to fairly low rushing totals. Behind Ryan McNallan’s 109 rushing yards, the Panthers handed the Cougars a 41-14 Southern Football Alliance White division setback.

Luke Thornton, Pine Island’s 6-foot-5, 255-pound left tackle was just part of an attack that allowed McNallan to punish the second level with runs that rarely exceeded six yards. But combined with teammate Tristan Akason, who carried 10 times for 55 yards and two scores, the Panthers were able to keep the chains moving and the Cougars on their heels.

 “That’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel all year long, we get in situations where we can’t get off the field on defense. And tonight was one of those nights where it just didn’t happen for us,” Rauen said.

Z-M opened the scoring with a 31-yard pass from Kurt Gadient to Jacob Ugland with three minutes, four seconds left in the opening quarter.

But Pine Island answered immediately when Ben Farrell took a short pass from Jared Lohmeyer 65 yards to knot the score. That was the way it had to work when offenses went into the teeth of a wind that whipped all game long.

“It was a struggle going into the wind,” Rauen said. “But the big thing was when we scored and then they threw that short pass and that Farrell kid took it down the sideline for a touchdown. He’s a really good athlete. He’s really fast. Giving up that touchdown that quickly after our score was really kind of the start of the downfall for us tonight.”

The Panthers would score twice in the second quarter, first on a 5-yard run from McNallan, then on Lohmeyer’s 28-yard pass to Luke Schmidt.

By the time Gadient hit Ellis Hirman for a 9-yard score to put the Cougars back on the board, only 10:13 remained in the game. That meant, with a 13-point deficit, Z-M needed to make stops on defense. Instead, Pine Island again controlled the game with its rushing attack, marching 62 yards in seven plays – six of which were rushes – putting the game away on Akason’s 3-yard run. The Panthers added a late touchdown with both teams using backups.

Gadient finished 10 of 17 for 11 yards with an interception and two touchdowns while Jacob Tschann totaled 90 yards on 17 carries.

The loss drops the Cougars into third place in the White division, as well as third in Section 1AA. And while Rauen would certainly have liked a higher seed in the playoffs, it does mean a first-round home game for Z-M.

“I was just telling all the parents it’s a good thing we don’t have to drive two hours to Norwood Young America or someplace like that. They’re going to have to come here,” Rauen said. “(But) that’s still a ways away. We still have a game Wednesday night to go play against Triton, and they haven’t lost in the White division. It’s going to be a tough task for us, especially with the short week to prepare for them and having this happen tonight. It’s going to be tough to get the kids ready to play on Wednesday night. But, you know, we’re going to get back to work.”

The Cougars (4-3) and Cobras (6-1) will kickoff Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Dodge Center.

Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
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