Franta, Tow spearhead the defense

Offensive coordinators made a point of designing blocking schemes to prevent Blue Earth Area safety David Franta and Fairmont linebacker Tim Tow from making tackles.

While the strategic maneuver temporarily achieved its goal for short periods of time, the side effects proved even more problematic as defensive teammates of both Franta and Tow capitalized on either mismatches or gaps in the line.

Despite facing double-team blocking, the pair of hard-hitting all-South Central Conference selections topped their respective teams in tackles during the 2013 gridiron campaign.

The 6-foot, 175-pound Tow recorded a staggering 157 tackles, including 62 solo stops, to play an integral role in guiding the Cardinals to an appearance in this fall’s Class 3A state quarterfinals and an 8-3 overall record.

Fairmont’s senior middle linebacker notched the program’s No. 2 single-game tackle total of 28 against Sibley East in the Section 3AAA semifinals en route to a team-best 10 tackles for a loss of yardage. Tow also topped the red-and-white by delivering 5 1/2 quarterback sacks for a total of 36 yards lost to complement one fumble recovery during his final prep football season.

While Tow evolved into one of the Cardinals’ most prolific tacklers of all-time in 2013, the 5-11, 185-pound Franta proved a high-impact defender throughout his outstanding three-year varsity gridiron career.

The Minnesota Associated Press all-state nominee compiled the Bucs’ top tackle total (88) this campaign, in addition to making one interception. The shoulder pad-rattling Franta, who proved a key factor behind Blue Earth Area’s undefeated state championship season in 2012, closed out his prep football career with 223 tackles and four picks.

The two-time All-Area choice also churned out 552 yards and eight touchdowns on 72 carries from his flanker spot on offense, in addition to catching 19 passes for 414 yards and five more scores this fall.

The two-time all-SCC selection proved a triple-threat on the football field by returning eight kickoffs for 210 yards and one TD to put the wraps on a brilliant prep career.

For their high-impact performances on the high school gridiron, Franta and Tow have been selected as the 2013 Sentinel All-Area Defensive Players of the Year.

Here’s an inside glance at the rest of the 2013 Sentinel All-Area football team’s defensive roster.

The Front Line

Greg Claeys (Blue Earth Area) – The all-South Central Conference nose guard utilized his strength and quickness to tally 54 tackles, including one quarterback sack, during the fall.

The 6-1, 205-pound interior lineman also recovered two fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in 2013.

The senior center handled the Bucs’ snapping duties and opened holes for an offense that generated a total of 3,787 yards.

The hard-hitting Claeys also proved a key player behind Blue Earth Area’s undefeated Class 3A state championship campaign in 2012.

Logan Pytleski (GHEC/ Truman) – The all-Southern Confederacy Conference selection wreaked havoc from his defensive end position this season.

The 6-2, 195-pound senior strongman used his quickness off the edge to record a second-best team total of 61 tackles against league opponents, including six quarterback sacks.

The hard-working Pytleski also displayed his sure hands by scooping up three fumbles to tie for the No. 1 spot in that category in the SCC.

The Jaguars’ Defensive Player of the Year also handled the snapping duties for an offense that generated 2,566 total yards to round out an excellent prep football career.

Jake Sinn (Martin Co. West) – The all-Southern Minnesota Conference selection delivered 78 tackles and four quarterback sacks from his defensive end position in 2013.

The hard-nosed Sinn displayed his strength and quickness by forcing opponents into three fumbles on the campaign.

The 6-2, 215-pound junior offensive guard provided pocket protection and created running room for a Maverick lineup that lit up scoreboard for nearly 40 points per game and 4,786 yards of total offense this fall.

Jared Wander (GHEC/ Truman) – The perennial All-Area lineman amassed a team-best 78 stops, including three quarterback sacks, from his defensive tackle position this fall.

The bulldozing 6-3, 285-pound senior also created running room for a Jaguar offensive unit that generated nearly 321 total yards per outing.

Wander played a key role in engineering the team’s 6-4 overall record and sectional quarterfinal victory in capping his stellar prep football career.

The Secondary

Eythan Blair (North Union) – The sure-handed freshman phenom made an impact during his varsity debut season by compiling the Warriors’ No. 1 tackle total of 82, including 36 solo stops, from his linebacker spot.

The North Union offensive tackle also delivered blocking and pass protection for an offense that generated 2,470 totals yards and 22 TDs this fall.

The Iowa Class 1A, honorable mention all-District 1 choice will be a cornerstone player to rebuild the green-and-black attack around for the next three seasons.

Josh Johanson (GHEC/ Truman) – The academic all-Southern Confederacy Conference player displayed his catching skills by pocketing five interceptions from his cornerback position to share the No. 3 spot in the league this fall.

The all-SCC choice proved a triple threat by topping the Jaguars in both receiving and kickoff returns during his senior season.

The GHEC/Truman Coaches Award winner caught 16 passes for 300 yards, five TDs and a pair of 2-point conversions en route to placing 10th in the SCC in scoring with 42 points.

The fleet-footed Johanson topped the entire conference by bringing back nine kickoffs for a staggering 39.8-yard average and one TD to cap his stellar campaign.

Gus Phillips (Blue Earth Area – The two-time All-Area defender utilized his Mercurial quickness to deliver a team-best seven quarterback sacks from his linebacker/stand-up defensive end spot.

The two-time all-South Central Conference selection recorded 46 tackles, recovered two fumbles and blocked two punts in 2013.

The 6-1, 180-pound senior standout also produced 10 TDs and 645 yards on 78 carries from his flanker position on offense, in addition to catching 17 passes for 290 yards and three more scores.

Phillips also proved a valuable two-way starter in guiding Blue Earth Area to an undefeated Class 3A state football championship a year ago.

Jay Ruen (Fairmont) – The Class 3A academic all-state player reached the century mark in tackles from his roving linebacker position to finish second on the Cardinals in 2013.

The two-time All-Area choice made 35 solo stops including five for a loss of yardage, generated three fumble recoveries, created two fumbles and pocketed two interceptions this fall.

The all-South Central Conference tight end also contributed offensively by garnering a team third-best 21 receptions for 258 yards and six TDs to finish third in scoring with 36 points.

The 6-1, 189-pound senior standout finished his three-year varsity career with 244 tackles and nine interceptions.

Ruen also played a key role in engineering Fairmont’s state runner-up showing in 2011, as well as the Cardinals’ return to state this season.

Cody Runksmeier (North Union) – The Iowa Class 1A, all-District 1 linebacker delivered 68 tackles, including 32 solos, to place No. 2 on the Warriors’ statistical charts this campaign.

The senior two-way starter, who recovered a fumble on defense, also proved an offensive juggernaut for North Union by topping the team with 823 yards and 10 TDs on 133 carries out of the backfield.

Runksmeier led the green-and-black attack by generating 84 points, including three scores through the air, on the heels of 17 catches for 265 more yards.

The special-teamer paced North Union with 24 kickoff returns for 679 yards for a 28.3-yard average and one TD from 99 yards out, to complement six punt returns for 52 more yards to round out a stellar season.