By PATRICK SLACK
Blocking three punts is usually a good recipe for a win.
Of course, having a back run for six touchdowns isn’t bad either.
The Pierz special teams unit had a big night, but not as big as senior Nathan Athman, who carried the Pioneers to a 43-26 homecoming win over Rockford Area, Oct. 4.
By the end of the night, Athman had accumulated 222 rushing yards on 23 carries and recorded all six of the team’s touchdowns, with the final four each coming in answer to a Rockford touchdown.
“It really kept my adrenaline up when I would score right after them,” Athman said. “I knew that if we got ahead all the boys would keep trying to stay ahead, and having a one to two touchdown lead on a team is too little of a lead to not go 100 percent. Being ahead was just good motivation for me I guess.
“Having this type of performance on my senior homecoming meant a lot,” he said. “Being as it was my last homecoming, I wanted it to be something worth remembering and that I could look back on in a few years.”
Pierz marched down the field quickly on the opening drive of the game, with Athman punching in his first score from seven yards away, then extended its lead to 14-0 on a 26-yard Athman run.
Rockford sandwiched a pair of touchdowns around Athman’s third score, closing the gap to 20-13 at halftime.
After Pierz went ahead 26-13 following three quarters, Rockford hit a deep 75-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 26-20 with 10:32 to play.
But Athman overpowered the Rockford line once again on the Pioneers’ ensuing drive, bowling over a handful of defenders before breaking away on a 50-yard scoring rush, then added one final score to seal the night.
“I like having long runs because it makes me want to do even better on the next run,” Athman said. “Since I’m not the quickest running back, and dives are the majority of my carries, an open field run is just really rewarding to me.”
Junior quarterback Ethan Lochner helped soften up the defense through the air, completing 4-of-8 passes for 40 yards, 31 of which went to junior Beau Winscher.
Senior Tyler Millner added 38 yards on the ground as the Pierz offense totalled 322 on the night.
“Rockford really was doing all they could on defense,” Athman said. “All I can really do is give credit to my linemen. Without having them, I would never have gotten the yards I did.
“If all our linemen are working together and giving it all they’ve got, we are a very hard offense to stop,” he said. “Our running backs all run hard, and sometimes there is no hole to run through, but we have the mindset that we are going to make a hole.”
Senior linebacker Mac Gruber made eight solo tackles and had one of Pierz’ blocked punts.
The Pioneers employed a bend but don’t break effort defensively, withstanding 245 passing and 106 rushing yards from Rockford senior quarterback Tommy Reinking, while taking care of the football on their own end with no turnovers.
Pierz improved to 4-2 overall, 3-2 in the Central Minnesota Conference with the win.
The Pioneers are scheduled to play at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Friday.