College football: Yellowjackets a win away from championship game
Vermilion has come a long way in the past two seasons, but the Rochester Community and Technical College football team is looking to halt the run in Saturday's MCAC state semifinals.
Vermilion posted back-to-back winless seasons in 2011 and 2012. This year the team earned the No. 3 playoff seed in the five-team Northern Division and nipped No. 2 Fond du Lac 30-27 in the state quarterfinals. That earned it a date with 13th-ranked RCTC (8-1).
"They're just a scrappy team that lines up and plays really hard," Yellowjackets coach Bill Quistorff said. "We have a lot of respect for them; they find a way to win."
Vermilion (4-5) will have to make about a six-hour bus journey to play the 2 p.m. game Saturday at Rochester Regional Sports Stadium. Looming in its path are the 13th-ranked Yellowjackets, who are just a win away from again playing in the state championship game.
RCTC, the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division, has played in the past four state championship games and in 16 of the past 17.
"That's been an incentive all year, to keep the home-field advantage" Quistorff said. "Now the sophomores have a chance to play their final game at home. We're hoping to have a really strong fan base for our final home game."
RCTC appears to have the advantage on paper with a strong and high-scoring offense and tough and physical defense.
"We're definitely going to put the pressure on and try and make them keep up with us," Quistorff said. "We're going to try and tire them out so they make mistakes."
Vermilion has struggled with its ground game, rushing for a mere 387 yards in eight regular-season games. Quistorff said the key for the RCTC defense will be to control quarterback Keenan West. The Yellowjackets had five sacks and four interceptions in last week's win.
Quistorff said linemen Justin Carr, James Horton and William Brice are keys for the defensive line. RCTC's linebacking crew is also coming off a strong game.
"I just want to work on everything for the whole team," linebacker Dominique Young said of preparing for this week's game.
RCTC's lethal ground attack ran for 303 yards last week. Sophomore Alex Schliesmann led the way with 207 yards and he now has a state-leading 1,117 yards rushing this season. Charles Arnold was hampered with an injury last week, but he will be closer to full strength for this game.
"We're definitely going to try and get that running game going," Quistorff said. "We expect Schliesmann to have a big game and Charles Arnold will be more involved."
Wide receiver Evan Bungum of Hayfield will not play due to a leg injury. But the Yellowjackets have solid depth at the position led by Josh Zitzmann and slot back/running back Jake Kirsch of Rochester. Montrell Jones, Matthew Blanchard and Jalen Esters are now likely to see more time at receiver.
"Our challenge is just to be physical once again," Quistorff said.
The winner advances to face the Northland and Central Lakes winner in the state title game Nov. 10 at St. Cloud State. Central Lakes (8-1) was ranked 12th in the nation in this week's junior college poll.