Larks picking up where they left off

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Grand Meadow is undefeated so far this year with leadership from running back Landon Jacobson (from left), quarterback Trenton Bleifus and lineman Isaac Tangen.

About the only question for Grand Meadow these days is whether its players are capable of playing an entire 48 minutes.

We know they can play 24 minutes. And we got a little bit of a taste of them inching closer to 36 minutes last week.

But it's a nice problem to have. What it's meant is that the Superlarks have been running roughshod over their competition, and that longtime coach Gary Sloanhas had enough heart to sit his starters well before the final whistle.

In order, Grand Meadow has won 47-30, 64-15, 53-12 and 49-8. That's been enough to earn them a Nine Man ranking of third in the state.

It's also been enough to make them wonder how they'll react to better competition, and having to hang in there for a full football game.


"We haven't played a tough schedule," Sloan said. "The first half of our schedule is much weaker than the second half. Our two most dangerous players Trenton Bleifus(senior quarterback/safety) and Landon Jacobson(junior running back/linebacker), along with my other returning starter from last year Isaac Tangen(senior offensive/defensive lineman), they've been the first three to come out of every game."

But they've sure made the most of their time when they've been in there. Bleifus and Jacobson are both near the top of the Southeast Conference statistically, despite the early exits. Bleifus has already thrown for 450 yards and eight touchdowns, while Jacobson has run for 394 yards.

Bleifus has gotten his numbers with dagger-like efficiency. He's connected on 20 of 37 passes. And Jacobson, a brute of a 5-foot-11, 190-pound running back (bench presses a staggering 350 pounds and runs a 4.6 40-yard dash), was averaging 17 yards per carry going into last week's game with Mabel-Canton. Then he goes off for 132 yards on 16 carries and sees his per-carry average actually dip.

Yes, the going has been good at Grand Meadow. That's not something that was being universally counted on. The Superlarks finished 12-2 last year and made it all the way to the state championship game where they fell to Clinton-Graceville-Beardlsey.

But graduation plucked almost all of those Grand Meadow starters. And there wasn't much a senior class coming either, with just Bleifus, Tangen and Jason Freese, who hadn't been out for football since his freshman year.

Still, Bleifus — a third-year starter at quarterback — never flinched. After guiding his team with 33 touchdown passes last year, against just four interceptions, he was certain more excellence was on its way. He believed that after watching how teammates had developed in their first few practices.

"This team is just as good as last year's," Bleifus said. "These guys have learned how to be successful. People have stepped up in these games, and done what other guys did last year."

Offensively, Bleifus has done his part to make sure this isn't just a one or two-man show. Last week was the perfect example, with him completing 10 of 16 passes, connecting with five different receivers en route.


And when the Superlarks aren't airing it out, there is always the option of simply handing the ball to Jacobson, and letting him do his teeth-rattling thing.

The guy that Sloan literally has to chase out of the weigh room is a force of nature.

"Landon isn't scared of anyone," Bleifus said. "He is one of a kind. He comes out with everything he's got."

Like the rest of these Superlarks, he's got a lot.

Turnaround at P.I.

Lean times at Pine Island are being replaced.

That's happening behind the coaching of second-year guy John Stapleton, a former seven-year assistant with the Panthers.

Stapleton got the head job in mid-June a year ago. With little time to get an off-season program started, Pine Island did the kind of losing it had been accustomed to in recent years. For the second straight season, it went 1-8.


"It was hard to track all the kids down (two summers ago)," Stapleton said. "This summer, the players knew what the expectations were. We had a full off-season together to do the things we wanted to do, with weight training, speed training, pliometrics and 7-on-7 games. We were still not quite where I want us to be, but it's a lot better than last year."

The Panthers' record reflects the improvement. Pine Island is 3-1. After dropping its season opener to powerful SFA Red Division team Kasson-Mantorville, it has gone 3-0 in its SFA White Division (22-13 over Lewiston-Altura, 35-20 over St. Charles, and 41-0 over D-E).

It's done it behind some excellent quarterbacking by Jared Lohmeyer(41-for-78 passing for 760 yards and eight touchdowns), the running of Ryan McNallan(394 yards rushing on 74 carries), the receiving of Ben Farrell(12 catches, 294 yards) and Ben Warneke(15 catches, 248 yards), a vastly-improved offensive line, and an opportunistic defense that has created a bunch of turnovers.

"It feels good to win," Stapleton said. "There is excitement in the school. There is more pep in our payers' step. It's just a more enjoyable environment to be around."

Nice matchup

A showdown game is looming in the SFA Blue Division.

It pits unbeaten Rushford-Peterson (4-0) traveling to take on Chafield (4-1).

Chatfield, despite its one loss, figures to be a slight favorite. The Gophers' lone setback has been to No. 1 ranked (Class AA) Caledonia, 19-18 to begin the season.


Rushford-Peterson, which has steadily improved the last few years, has yet to play a team with a winning record.

R-P's closest game was with Fillmore Central, winning 14-13 in Week 1.

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