BLUE EARTH - Blue Earth Area's rebuilt offensive line needed the first half of Thursday night's season-opening football game to mesh gears.
Once center Greg Claeys, guards Seth Anderson and Kolt Gorg, and tackles Kellen Jacobs and Dakota Jahnke synchronized their blocking schemes, the defending Class AAA state champion Bucs steamrolled on all cylinders during a 28-point second half at Wilson Field.
Quarterback Kysten Zierke threw for 72 yards and one touchdown, while generating another TD and a game-best 124 yards on the ground to engineer Blue Earth Area's 42-6 non-league triumph over the Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial Knights.
RUNNING ROOM — Blue Earth Area flanker Gus Phillips (6) finds running room after Buc tackle Kellen Jacobs (55) delivered a block on Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial’s Devan Hagge (18) during season-opening football action Thursday night at Wilson Field in Blue Earth. Knight defenders Nick Thul (84) and Noah Lantz (far right) pursue Phillips on the play. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"Our big guys upfront really started clicking and just wore them (the Knights) down by halftime," said Buc assistant coach Travis Armstrong. "We also had a nice balanced rushing mix tonight, with five or six different players contributing good yardage."
Armstrong's postgame analysis hit the bull's-eye as the 6-foot, 220-pound Zierke's bulldozing 124-yard effort paced Blue Earth Area's bruising 394-yard team rushing performance.
Flanker Gus Phillips contributed 63 yards on seven carries, flanker David Franta hammered out 56 more on seven totes, backup quarterback Luke Schavey delivered one score and 43 yards, running back Calvin Sanders supplied 25 yards and one TD, while fullback Justin Ritter pounded out 30 yards and two scores on four handles.
The opening quarter, however, belonged to the Bucs' all-state quarterback as Zierke's legs churned out 40 of the home team's initial 60-yard scoring drive. Zierke then pounded out 32 of Blue Earth Area's ensuing 45-yard march to paydirt, capped by his 5-yard TD rumble up the middle.
Clinging to a 14-6 halftime lead after Nick Thul caught a 23-yard scoring strike from quarterback Bryson Yackel at the 3:49 juncture of the first frame, the Bucs' offensive line flattened the Knights' frontline defense.
Blue Earth Area converted its first four possessions of the second half into 28 points to leave no doubt about the final outcome.
Phillips blasted out 29 yards on three carries to light the fuse behind the Bucs' opening drive of the third quarter. Sanders then exploded for a twisting, turning 35-yard sprint to reach the end zone before Justus Thelen kicked the third of his five PATs on the game.
Trevor Zierke, Claeys and the Buc defense forced a three-and-out LCWM sequence before Kysten Zierke fired a 15-yard strike to Bailey Olson to reach midfield before Franta, Phillips and Ritter covered the final 50 yards on Drive 2 of the second half.
Franta ground out 12 yards, Phillips high-stepped by defenders for 25 to reach the 13 before Ritter steamrolled the distance to paydirt.
Kysten Zierke then went to the airwaves by lofting a 50-yard scoring aerial to the fleet-footed Sanders, who had sped by the Knights' secondary during the home team's third offensive series of the third segment.
Conor Barnett's interception then set up Blue Earth Area's final TD as Schavey and the Buc reserves covered the last 55 of a 64-yard drive. Schavey weaved left, broke tackles and reached the end zone on a 35-yard scoring gallop with 10:25 left in regulation to create running time at 42-6.
Phillips opened the season with two quarterback sacks for a minus 26 yards, while Schavey chipped in one for negative 12.
Blue Earth Area (1-0) travels to Mound Westonka on Friday, Sept. 6.
Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial (0-1) plays host to Medford on Friday, Sept. 6.
Westbrook-Walnut Grove 20, Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman 6 - The Chargers raced past the Jaguars 20-6 in season-opening, nonconference Nine-Man football action on Thursday night in Westbrook.
No individual statistics for either team were reported.
Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman (0-1) plays host to Southwestern United in a 7 p.m. nonconference game Friday, Sept. 6, in Truman.