Rarely does a player on a team that gets beat by 28 points stand out as the most impressive player on the field. It is exceptionally rare when the opponent has a player that plays the same position and is regarded as one of the top players at the position in the state. That is what I came away with watching Brainerd fall to Owatonna in the 5A semifinals Saturday night. The game belonged to Owatonna running back Jason Williamson and his Huskies' teammates, but the night belonged to Brainerd running back Charlie Geraets.
Geraets started with a tough run inside for five yards behind lineman Nate Bessingpas. On another interior run, the senior made a quick cut and broke a tackle for a big gain. He ran behind offensive lineman Hunter Erickson and fullback Max Zimmerman for eight more yards.
Brett Hague's block got Geraets past the line of scrimmage but Geraets's physical running – he ran over a tackler – got the team a first down. Lined up in a version of the Wildcat, Geraets bobbled a direct snap, but he kept his head, scooped up the ball and still picked up yards. On fourth and goal from the two, he took an option pitch and behind a critical block by Zimmerman scored a touchdown. He showed his quick feet with an inside run where the defense forced him to cut back at the line of scrimmage. The senior showed his power with a run for 20 yards. Later the Huskies' front seven sealed off the initial hole but Geraets bounced outside and made a guy miss. After another physical run, he showed he was a willing blocker as he picked up a pass rusher.
I usually don't like to devote so much time to one player, but the Warriors were having some trouble in the passing game, and Geraets and his blockers were almost the entire offense.
Facing both fourth and short and a stacked box Geraets – who rushed for 310 yards on 39 carries – literally hopped through a tiny hole for a first down. After a touchdown, he caught a two-point conversion pass. After another nice cutback run, he jumped over a defender, kept his feet and picked up more yardage. After breaking a tackle, Geraets bounced outside for a first down. He was able to highlight his speed around the corner as blocks by Zimmerman, and Mike Bostrom paved the way for a late touchdown.
Running behind Erickson and Bessingpas, Geraets benefited from a kick out block from Zimmerman. Zimmerman – however – was not just a blocker. A patient run resulted in a short touchdown, and later a cutback run picked up a first down.
Defensively the Warriors had their struggles. With a defense – at least early geared to stop Williamson – Brainerd struggled to defend the deep ball. For the better part of the game, they did do an adequate job defending the run.
Zimmerman played both ways. From a linebacker spot he read and disrupted an attempted screen pass while fellow linebacker Luke Johnson filled the hole on the inside on some of the Huskies inside runs.
On a 4th and short Pat Gervenak made a tackle for loss from his defensive back spot on a throw into the flat. He was great in space as pulled the trick again as another open field tackle on a receiver kept Owatonna short of the first down and then he made an open field tackle on Williamson.
The interior of the Warriors line held up for most of the game. On a 4th and short the middle of the defensive line stuffed a run short of the line to gain. To me, Garret Gardiepy stood out on the inside. A solo tackle resulted in a short gain, and he made at least three plays in the middle of the defense to stop running plays for little or no gain.
Defensive end Morgan Gibson used his speed to get into the backfield and record a sack. He also showed good closing speed coming from the opposite side of the field to track down a running back from behind. Finally, he played the option to perfection and tackled the quarterback for a loss.
The front seven seemed to get worn down as the game went on but for much of the game, they were doing their best to keep the team in the game.
The defensive backs for the Warriors were put in man to man situations more than they likely would have wanted and struggled but Bradon Kramer came up aggressively on a third and short to prevent a first down.
The final score would read Owatonna 56 Brainerd 28. There was no doubt the better team won, but the best player on the field was Geraets, and the underdog Warriors showed why they were one of the four teams in 5A still alive in 2017.