State football: Larks are back for more

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Grand Meadow seniors (left to right) Perry Stejskal, Andrew Bell, Brock Johnson and Bryce Benson all played in the state football tournament as freshman. Now they’re back as seniors as the Superlarks will play Mountain Lake Area in the state football quarterfinals Friday at RCTC at 7 p.m. -- Rocky Hulne/

GRAND MEADOW — Four Grand Meadow football players may experience a little deja vu this Friday night and they’re hoping to change the outcome of the event they’re repeating.

GM seniors Brock Johnson, Andrew Bell, Bryce Benson and Perry Stejskal all played on the last Superlarks team that went to the state tournament at Rochester Community and Technical College in 2009, and they’re all in the lineup for this year’s GM team, which will play in the nine man state football quarterfinals this Friday at RCTC 7 p.m.

“The first time (we went to state) we were pretty young, but this time it’s our team and there’s a lot more pressure,” said Benson, a receiver and defensive lineman for GM.

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GM lost to Nicollet in 2009 and this time it’ll be taking on Mountain Lake Area (9-2 overall), which beat an undefeated Nicollet team 53-28 to get to state.

The Larks advanced to state with a 25-6 win over Spring Grove and they’re hoping to keep momentum going as they are finally healthy after suffering injuries throughout much of the season.

Stejskal, who plays running back and linebacker, was out for a bulk of the season and unfortunately that’s nothing new for him. Stejskal has suffered at least one significant injury in all four of his seasons with the Superlarks, but he was able to recover from this setback in time for the playoffs.

“It felt great to get back to finally playing full games again,” Stejskal said. “Now we want to win this game, so we can make it further than we did in our freshman year. We don’t want to lose again.”

GM head coach Gary Sloan said that Stejskal’s return as a full-time player in the Spring Grove game gave his squad a boost on both sides of the ball. Not only is Stejskal a hard hitting defender, he can also throw out some solid blocks and carry the ball.

“Perry is really kind of the leader out there, although we have other leaders too,” Sloan said. “He’s kind of got that personality and it’s good for our team to have him out there.”

The Larks have 10 seniors in their lineup and most of them have played together since they were in sixth grade. Johnson, who plays on the offensive and defensive lines, said the group is usually hanging out, even when they’re away from the football field.

“We help each other out in bad situations and good situations,” he said. “We’re all family.”

Sloan is counting on his seniors to give the team strong leadership Friday. This will be the group’s second state tournament, they played in the section title game last season, and they were the top seed in the section tournament in 2010, when injuries derailed their postseason run.

“I think it’s gonna come down to a lot of want to,” Sloan said. “How bad do you want to win? We’re a senior led team and hopefully they’ve got that drive to keep this going for awhile. Our goals are high. We’re excited, but we’re not satisfied.”

Bell, who plays cornerback and offensive line, said he’s been waiting to play in the state tournament again, ever since the Larks lost in 2009.

“When we lost, it gave us a lot of drive to want to get back there again,” he said. “That was a big part of a lot of us working out in the offseason, because (we got to state) as freshman.”

MLA and GM have been comparable on paper this season. The Wolverines have outscored their opponents 39.3-17.1 per game and GM has outscored its opponents 41.9-11.5 per game.

Junior running back Andrew Hempeck ran for 245 yards and four TDs in the Section 2 title game, and MLA also looks for big plays out of quarterback Carter Kirk, who is 6-7 and 220 pounds.

“He’s a dual threat to run and throw and he’s a concern to us,” Sloan said. “They run out of a lot of different formations and they’ve got two good running backs. We’ve got to focus on their quarterback, because everything starts with him.”

GM has had a lot of success on the ground and the air this season, and Sloan said it’s very important for his team to both in the upcoming game this Friday.

“The reason we were successful throwing against Spring Grove is because we ran the ball better,” Sloan said. “We need to do the same thing here. (Trenton) Bleifus is a good quarterback, he will find open guys if given time to throw.”

The winner of Friday’s game will take on the winner of South Ridge (9-1 overall) and Nevis (11-0 overall) in the Metrodome Nov. 16 at 9 a.m.