St. Croix Lutheran's identity is a veer-option offense averaging almost 50 points per game. But a dominant 45-7 victory over Pequot Lakes in the Class 3A semifinals Saturday showed that the Crusaders can play a little defense, too.

"I told our team that the 48 points [actually 45] was nice, but the seven was better," St. Croix Lutheran coach Carl Lemke said.

The top-ranked Crusaders (12-0) dictated terms from the beginning. They went 57 yards on nine plays on their first possession, taking a 7-0 lead when quarterback Jonathan Liesener ran the option to perfection, drawing the defense before pitching to James Chernohorsky for an 18-yard touchdown.

The Crusaders added short touchdown runs by Mike Stern and Liesener near the end of the first and second quarters for a 21-0 lead at halftime.

Meanwhile, Pequot Lakes struggled offensively, woes traced to the St. Croix Lutheran defense and the loss of starting quarterback Blake Lane to an injury in the first quarter. Forced to play sophomore backup Cale Wolf, the Patriots (9-3) were held to 15 total yards in the first half, minus-26 on the ground.

Losing Lane, Patriots coach Chip Loh­miller said, was a turning point in the game. "When Lane went down, we lost half of our offense," he said. "We really couldn't get a rhythm going."

St. Croix Lutheran defensive end Stephen Kletscher was the primary beneficiary of a defense that dropped Pequot Lakes for lost yardage 14 times. Kletscher finished with three sacks and four tackles for losses, pacing a defense that allowed just 125 total yards.

"It felt good, but I'm never going to get a single sack if my cornerbacks aren't doing their work," Kletscher said. "Gotta thank those guys for doing their job so I can do mine."

Jim Paulsen