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High school football: Joey Gerlach’s big plays spark Woodbury over Centennial

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High school football: Joey Gerlach’s big plays spark Woodbury over Centennial

Joey Gerlach managed to be in the right place at the right time almost every time the Woodbury senior’s team needed him to be Wednesday night.

The Royals safety poked the ball loose on a blocked field goal attempt that teammate Scott Hanson returned 85 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of his team’s road matchup at Centennial.

In the second half, he blocked one extra-point attempt and threw a key two-point conversion on another as his team overcame an early two-touchdown deficit to top the Cougars 37-20.

Woodbury — ranked No. 7 in Class 6A — finished the regular season 7-1. The Cougars — ranked No. 10 — fell to 4-4.

“My coaches and my teammates put me in spots to succeed,” Gerlach said. “I give all the grace back to them. I just happened to find myself in the right spots tonight, and I did my best to give the team a boost.”

The Royals could not have needed a boost more after a first quarter that saw them fall behind 14-0. The bad luck started when Woodbury turned the ball over on downs at the Centennial 49 on the game’s opening drive. The Cougars then marched 51 yards in eight plays to score on a 2-yard touchdown run by senior Lance Liu for a 7-0 lead.

On Woodbury’s next possession, a pass from sophomore quarterback George Bjellos was picked off by senior linebacker Mason Mix and the Cougars got the ball back at their own 46. That set the stage for a 4-yard touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Daylen Cummings to expand the lead to two touchdowns.

“We had an open receiver, and it hits our hands and pops up in the air for an interception,” Royals coach Andy Hill said. “We had an open receiver have the ball go off his fingertips that was probably a touchdown if we completed it. We had some opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize on them.”

But that began to change in the second quarter. After a costly personal foul call against Centennial kept a Woodbury drive alive, senior RJ Altman scored on a 2-yard run that cut the gap to 14-7.

Then, after the Cougars advanced inside the Royals 10 on their next possession, they were forced to settle for a 22-yard field-goal attempt. The snap was bobbled, and Gerlach poked the ball loose. Hanson was there to scoop it up at the 15-yard line and raced all the way down the field for a touchdown that sent the teams into the locker rooms tied 14-14 at halftime.

“It was a huge play,” Hill said. “An absolutely huge play.

“(Gerlach) is one of the best players in the state. I don’t mean that with arrogance. But he’s just an outstanding football player. He’s really selfless. Whatever we ask him to do, he’s going to do.”

The Woodbury defense set up another touchdown when senior defensive lineman Matt Mogck picked off a pass on the opening drive of the second half and returned it to the Centennial 28. That led to a 14-yard touchdown by Bjellos on a quarterback keeper to give the Royals the lead for the first time at 21-14.

The Cougars answered right back with a 1-yard touchdown run by Liu on their next possession, but Gerlach blocked the extra point to keep his team in front 21-20.

“My teammates and I try to stay athletic and stay loose,” Gerlach said. “We try to play fast, and when you do that, everything that needs to happen happens.”

He came up with another big play after Altman scored on a 3-yard run with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Gerlach, the holder on the extra-point attempt, bobbled the snap but picked up the ball and heaved it to junior Kipp Koeplin in the end zone for a two-point conversion that expanded the Woodbury lead to 29-20.

“Hats off to No. 6 (Gerlach),” Cougars senior Chase Granzow said. “He made some big plays. But we just didn’t do our jobs, and it cost us.”

Centennial threatened late but turned the ball over on downs at the Royals’ 26. Altman then immediately took the ball 74 yards for a touchdown. Another two-point conversion attempt made the score 37-20, sealing the victory.

Altman finished with 16 carries for 129 yards and three touchdowns.

Now both teams await the playoff pairings in Class 6A which are scheduled to be released Friday.

“I think we can go all the way,” Gerlach said. “We’re a hard-fighting team. We play hard-nosed, fast football. And we have the talent to go a long way.”

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Biden re-election poll shows dismal 22% support; Harris even worse at 12%

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Biden re-election poll shows dismal 22% support; Harris even worse at 12%

The numbers are cringeworthy — 22% and 12%.

That’s the support for President Biden and his VP Kamala Harris in an I&I/TIPP poll that asked who would you vote for in the 2024 election. Even if you doubt the veracity of all this polling, these are poor numbers.

The only good news for Biden, the survey adds, is “no favorite has emerged among the large field of potential challengers to run against Biden in the 2024 primaries.”

But the sinking survey results are not out of the norm. A Wall Street Journal poll out Tuesday pegged Biden’s approval rating at a dismal 41%. Rasmussen had it at 42%.

Congress, however, was at 22% in the Journal poll, but that’s another story.

“It’s undeniable. Joe Biden is hurting in the polls right now and it’s due to a number of factors,” said Erin O’Brien, associate professor of political science at UMass Boston.

Those factors, she said, include the nagging pandemic, soaring inflation, lingering doubts about Biden’s foreign policy chops after the botched pullout from Kabul and lingering legislation.

The Journal adds that with Biden flatlining in the polls, he won’t be in a position to help Democrats fighting to keep their jobs in the midterms.

This comes as Democrats hold a slim majority in the House, where the split is 221-213, and in the Senate, at 50-50, but with Harris as the tiebreaker.

Support for former President Donald Trump remains strong among those loyal to him, so that also could be reflected in the polling that shows Biden needs to rebound or it will be too late to get much done in the second half of his tenure.

Now Biden faces a new challenge.

He held a video conference Tuesday with Russia’s Vladimir Putin over Russian troops heading toward the Ukrainian border.

Just hours before the call got underway, the Associated Press reported that Ukrainian officials charged Russia was continuing to escalate the crisis by sending tanks and snipers to war-torn eastern Ukraine to “provoke return fire.”

Republicans are watching to see how Biden fares, considering how poorly his administration handled withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It’s all showing in the polls, with the Journal adding 63% of voters said the country had gone off-track, with just 27% saying the nation was on the right course. Some 61% said the economy was headed in the wrong direction.

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Cam Talbot shines as Wild top Oilers 4-1 for seventh straight win

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Cam Talbot shines as Wild top Oilers 4-1 for seventh straight win

EDMONTON — The last time Cam Talbot faced the Edmonton Oilers, he was throwing punches at center ice with Oilers goaltender Mike Smith in an infamous brawl in a Battle of Alberta between the Calgary Flames and Oilers, two seasons ago that made highlight reels all across North America.

On Tuesday night, Talbot made the highlight reel for all the reasons he’s paid for. Stopping pucks.

The former Oilers goaltender was spectacular, making 38 saves as the Wild beat Edmonton 4-1 at Rogers Place.

Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, Victor Rask and Dmitry Kulikov tallied for the Wild, while Jesse Puljujarvi scored the lone marker for the Oilers as Minnesota extended its win-streak to seven games, while the Oilers have dropped three straight contests.

The Wild improve to 18-6-1 and remain in top spot in the Central division.

“I’ve been back in this building a couple of times, but never got the start,” Talbot said. “It’s nice, this place will always have a place in our heart, we started our family here and it was a great building to play in and I still have a lot of great friends here. It’s one of those things where you look to come back here every time and it’s even more fun when you get a big win.

“I can’t say enough about the way we closed out the game. You don’t want to have lulls in the game, but give the guys credit, they just found a way to battle and win the hockey game.”

The Wild’s special teams haven’t been great this season, but they clearly won the special teams battle against Edmonton, which boasts the league’s best power play and its penalty kill is in the top-5.

Minnesota scored once on the power play and denied the Oilers potent power play on all five of their opportunities.

“Our penalty kill was outstanding tonight, I can’t say enough about them,” said Talbot, who is 2-0 in three appearances since being dealt away from the Oilers two seasons ago. “We weren’t giving them those Grade A chances that they’re accustomed to, and with the statistics coming in you wouldn’t think the power-play match-up would favor us, but we got a big one (power play goal) early, and our penalty kill did a great job, so give our special teams a ton of credit tonight.”

The Oilers have been notoriously slow starters out of the gate, giving up the first goal in 14 of the team’s first 23 games, and the Wild made it 15 as Eriksson Ek scored a power-play marker just 1:11 into the contest.

They went up 2-0 just 6:03 later as Foligno buried a cross-ice feed from Matt Dumba.

Edmonton’s high-octane offence, led by superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl got rolling in the second period as they put all kinds of pressure on the Wild, who continue to play without top defenseman and captain Jared Spurgeon, but the Oilers were only able to cut their deficit in half, despite outshooting Minnesota 20-6 in the middle frame.

“They played really well in the second period, but we really liked our regroup and how we played in the third period. We did a lot of real, real good things,” said Wild coach Dean Evason. “They’re going to get shots and to not give that second and third gritty ones to them. Obviously Draisaitl and McDavid are special players. They’re going to get their opportunities to shoot pucks, but it’s that second and third one, that not only did Cam do a good job of smothering, but our second forward, we got pucks the heck out of that area, so they didn’t have more opportunities like that.”

Talbot made several big saves in the second period. He robbed Draisaitl with a left pad save as the former Hart Trophy winner tried to beat him with a one-timer, backdoor. In the final minute of the period, he stretched out to make a right pad save off of Tyson Barrie, who was wide open in the slot.

But his best save came early in the third when he dove across to deny Darnell Nurse of the tying goal.

“I knew that he was there, but obviously you have to stay patient with the guy in the slot first,” recalled Talbot. “But our guy did a good job of going down and taking away the lower part of the net, and I was able to see the pass right away and I knew Nurse was down there and I just tried to get everything in front of it.”

Moments after the big save off Nurse, the Wild scored on a delayed penalty as Victor Rask scored his fourth goal of the season to give Minnesota some breathing room and then Kulikov showed off some slick hands on a breakaway goal to give the Wild a 4-1 lead with 5:03 remaining to put the game away.

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Ellison: State, localities reach agreement on distributing $300M in opioid settlement

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Ellison: State, localities reach agreement on distributing $300M in opioid settlement

Minnesota moved another step closer this week to unlocking roughly $300 million from a settlement with Johnson & Johnson and the three major U.S. drug distributors in connection to the nation’s opioid painkiller addiction crisis.

Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Monday that the state had reached an agreement with Minnesota counties and cities on how to distribute the state’s share of a pending $26 billion national settlement agreement. The state and local governments had to reach an agreement by Jan. 2, 2022, in order to maximize the amount they receive from the national settlement.

Municipal governments will receive 75% of the settlement funds while the state will receive 25% to help pay for opioid addiction treatment and prevention. The most recent estimate from Ellison’s office projects Minnesota state and local governments will receive $296 million over the next 18 years.

The settlement agreement with Johnson & Johnson and the “big three” drug distributors — Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen — is just one of several fronts in ongoing nationwide litigation against drug makers, marketers and wholesalers in connection to an epidemic of opioid painkiller addiction across the U.S.

The settlement stems from investigations by state attorneys general from across the U.S. into whether the distributors failed to screen and stop suspicious drug orders, and whether Johnson & Johnson misled patients and doctors about the addictive nature of opioid painkillers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 38 people died a day in 2019 of prescription opioid overdoses, totaling about 14,000 deaths. Lawsuits filed against drug makers such as Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, estimate hundreds of thousands of Americans died of opioid painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2015, while millions became addicted. About 5,500 Minnesotans died as a result of the addiction crisis, Ellison said.

In a statement issued with Ellison’s announcement, Pat Baustian, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and mayor of Luverne, noted the addiction epidemic’s “devastating impact on families and communities throughout Greater Minnesota,” and expressed appreciation for the state’s efforts to cooperate with local governments on distributing the funds.

“Although no amount of money can make up for the loss of life, the funding from these national settlement agreements will help our communities provide services and resources to address this crisis,” Baustian said.

The state settlement fund will be overseen and distributed by the Opioid Epidemic Response Advisory Council, according to Ellison’s office. Under current state law, the state opioid abatement fund distributes to local governments, but the agreement between the state and local governments requires the parties to change the law in the 2022 legislative session, according to Ellison’s office.

The local government abatement fund created by the settlement money will be allocated to all counties that participated in the settlement. It will also include municipalities that have a population of 30,000 or more, have a public health department or filed a lawsuit against the defendants in the settlement.

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