GRANTSBURG – The Grantsburg defense can’t be as gracious this Friday.
After concluding the regular season with a 28-12 win over Lake Holcombe-Cornell last week, the Pirates drew a first-round rematch this Friday against Unity – a team that defeated them 20-7 earlier this season.
“We definitely need to take care of the football this time around,” Grantsburg coach Adam Hale said. “We had three costly fumbles in the red zone last game and need to finish drives to give ourselves a chance to win.
“On defense, we need to tackle better than we did this Friday and do a better job on the line of scrimmage.”
But, Grantsburg responded to that mid-September loss to Unity with a five-game win streak, capped by its home win last Friday. Sterling McKinley passed for two touchdowns and Aidan Burkman rushed for two more in the win.
The Pirates got the only score of the first quarter on a pass from McKinley to Dane Jensen for 29 yards and an extra point from Jared VanWatermuelen. While the Knights got on the board and had a chance to tie or take the lead early in the second quarter, their 65-yard touchdown run was followed by a stop by Grantsburg on the 2-point conversion to maintain a 7-6 lead.
“(Lake Holcombe-Cornell) is predominantly a running team, so it wasn’t too surprising that they didn’t pass for a lot of success,” Hale said.
The rest of the half belonged to the Pirates.
Burkman capped a scoring drive with a 7-yard touchdown run with another VanWatermuelen kick. And before the close of the first half, McKinley connected with Levi Miller on a 10-yard touchdown pass, giving the Pirates a 21-6 lead entering the break.
That 15-point lead held through the third quarter and into the fourth, where the Pirates added an insurance score. Burkman scored on a 2-yard touchdown run and another VanWatermuelen kick made it a 28-6 Grantsburg lead.
The Knights’ rushing attack managed to get another score before the final buzzer, getting a 34-yard touchdown run from Tate Sauerwein, who finished with 224 yards on the ground. However, the Knights managed just 72 other yards on offense in the game.
McKinley was 14-for-23 for 164 yards passing; Miller had 52 yards on nine carries and Burkman had 42 yards on 13 carries. Reed Arnold and Trevor Anderson had 11 tackles each for the Grantsburg defense; McKinley, Garrett Johnson and Miller had eight tackles each.
The Pirates (6-3) now prepare for this Friday’s playoff opener at Unity, which the Pirates ousted from the postseason with a 51-13 win in the second round last year. The Eagles recovered from a season-opening loss to Spring Valley with eight consecutive wins to finish the regular season at 8-1. They have allowed more than one score in a game just twice this season.
“Both teams know each very well so there really isn't a lot of surprising each other at this point,” Hale said. “It will come down to who can execute their base plays and taking care of the ball the best on offense and which defense can limit the other's big plays.”