Star quarterback duel on tap in state quarters
Big time players show up in big time games and if the section finals in 7AAA and 8AAA are any indication, the state quarterfinal game in Duluth between No. 5 Perham (9-1) and unranked Esko (8-2) has the makings for a shootout.
Both quarterbacks, Perham's Jordan Hein and Esko's Mark Peterson, put up big numbers leading their teams to their respective state berths.
Hein destroyed the Park Rapids defense rushing 27 times for 217 yards. He averaged eight yards per carry and was not tackled for a loss.
Hein completed eight passes for 156 yards and two touchdown scores to Tyler Glines and Eli Beachy.
For good measure, Hein intercepted Panther QB Tyler McCollum and returned the pass 22 yards for a defensive score.
Hein has also lined up to return punts in the past few games and has all the ability in the world to add a special teams' score to his record-breaking 2012 stat sheet.
Like every team that has played Perham this season, Esko will be forced to focus their attentions on the Perham senior.
Perham running back Payton Jordahl took advantage of that focus against Park Rapids tipping the 100-yard mark with 108 yards rushing in the section final.
Peterson and the Eskomos upset top-seeded Proctor in 7AAA winning a 28-26 nail biter to advance.
"We are fortunate to still be playing and looking forward to competing against Perham," Esko Head Coach Bill Hudspith said. "With such an explosive Perham offense, we can't make any mistakes on offense. We definitely have to raise our total game in order to be able to compete with them. When playing teams (Perham) at this State level, teams don't have weaknesses."
Peterson, a junior, was perfect passing in the game going 15-for-15 for 183 yards and three touchdowns, and scored the game-winning rushing touchdown.
"That was the best game I've ever played, by far. I can't complain about that," Peterson said.
Peterson's main target was Ryan Holte, who caught seven passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns.
Both teams jumped out to early leads. Esko got up on Proctor 20-6. Perham led Park Rapids 19-6 early.
Both clubs also found themselves in a shootout when the fourth quarter rolled around.
Esko held a tight 26-20 lead in the early stages of the final frame. Perham led by just five, 31-26 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Park Rapids was forced to throw against Perham and McCollum was able to find daylight deep in the Yellowjacket secondary.
Despite Hein's INT score, McCollum threw for 226 yards and two scores against Perham. He had a bomb to Zach Eystad called back in the first quarter that would have completely changed the early stages had a holding call not taken six points off the scoreboard.
"We did alright right away," Hein said. "We were jumping the routes and they were hitting over the top. Man, we've got work to do this week."
Peterson has also been not-so-perfect passing and can be forced into giving the ball up.
In the section semifinal victory over Aitkin, he was intercepted four times by the Gobblers.
"We will be working hard on coverages this week," Perham Head Coach Mike Jordahl said. "We know we have good athletes back there and the good thing about that is that every situation we had last week versus Park Rapids is fixable. We'll also be working on some different pass rush schemes to put more pressure on the quarterback, as well."
The Yellowjackets are making their second consecutive and sixth overall appearance in the state tournament.
Providence Academy knocked out Perham in last season's quarterfinals and the Jackets look to avenge that loss and make a run for the school's first-ever state football title in their sixth state appearance.
Perham qualified for state in 1989, 97, 2007-08, and 2011.
The Eskomos return for their 10th appearance, but first since 2005. They won a state championship in 1975.
Esko made trips to state in 1975, 85-86, 92-93 and a three-year span from 2002-05.
Perham holds the No. 5 QRF ranking, while Esko is No. 14.
Esko was third in the Great Polar Football Alliance - Blue Conference Standings at 5-2 finishing behind Crosby-Ironton and Conference champs Moose Lake-Willow River, the two teams who defeated Esko this year.
Perham finished second in the Heart O' Lakes behind undefeated Detroit Lakes. The No. 3-4A Lakers gave Perham their only blemish.
Esko is averaging 27.6 points per game while allowing 21.6.
Perham scores 30.1 points per game while allowing 16.3.
The game is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10 at Public School Stadium in Duluth.