Moose Lake-Willow River steamrolls Section 7AA competitionThird-ranked ML-WR strung off 28 second-half points after leaving the locker rooms and they smacked Braham 35-8 in the Section 7AA championship game last Thursday at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
DULUTH – Let’s face it, the Moose Lake-Willow River football team is used to quick starts. Beginning with their intimidating warm-ups, the Rebels quite often have their second-stringers in by halftime. But that didn’t happen last Thursday. Well, at least not until the second half began.
Third-ranked ML-WR strung off 28 second-half points after leaving the locker rooms and they smacked Braham 35-8 in the Section 7AA championship game last Thursday at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth.
“The big adjustment was just our offense,” said Rebels coach Dave Louzek. “Braham crowded the line of scrimmage and we just had to move the pile up field. And that’s what we did in the second half.”
Leading just 7-0 after a 37-yard, first-quarter scamper by junior running back Chris Gassert, ML-WR scored on their first three possessions after halftime. Their opening 10-play, 65-yard march of the third quarter – capped off again by a 7-yard touchdown run by Gassert – proved to be pivotal, as it got the Rebels’ rushing attack in motion.
The unbeaten Rebels (11-0) racked up 262 of their 423 rushing yards in the second half, as all five of their scores Thursday night came via their well-known, hard-nosed ground attack.
“We live and die by the run,” said Louzek. “It has always been our game. And having that run game is always very important to us.”
Yet, a pesky Braham squad – which lost to the Rebels 54-14 during the regular season as well – was out to send a message and make ML-WR work for their fifth-straight section title.
“Braham’s a great team and they came to prove that they were better than the first time we played them,” said Louzek. “They came out and played real tough defense.”
But as the Rebels always do, they eventually wore their opponent out.
Following Gassert’s pair of TDs, senior running back Adam Johnsen found the end zone on a 7-yard run in the third quarter, while sophomore running back Jake Disterhaupt added two fourth-quarter scores on the ground from 5 and 11 yards out.
And just like that, an early scare turned in a rout.
“We had a little bit of a slow start, but we came out in the second and got on a roll,” said the 5-foot-7, 160-pound Gassert, who finished with a game-best two TDs and 244 yards on 26 carries. “We have a big line, like to run and like to pound teams.”
It’s been that way for years. And nothing has changed this fall. ML-WR’s explosive offense has outscored their opponents 526-47, including 124-14 in three playoff games, while their defense has five shutouts.
Playing in big games has become the norm as well. The Rebels – which advanced all the way to last year’s Prep Bowl, losing to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown – have won the last five section crowns with no contest.
“It’s kind of business as usual, these kids don’t get rattled,” said Louzek. “These kids don’t get over-emotional and handle this stuff wonderfully. We don’t look at streaks; we don’t pat ourselves on the back. We know we’ve never won a state championship yet and that’s what keeps us humble.”
Now heading back, they want the state’s ultimate prize more than ever.
“Coming up that short last year kind of hurt a lot,” said 6-foot, 245-pound senior lineman Austin Lanoue, who recorded a team-leading eight tackles and a sack Thursday. “We’ve all been in the weight room. We want (the state championship) to happen.”
“It all starts with our defense. People always say defense wins championships, and that’s a great anchor for us,” said Louzek. “This is the best defensive team and it’s one of the best offensive lines I’ve ever coached. We have a great set of running backs, too. We just have great athletes and never lose a step. The kids always look forward to playing here.”
ML-WR will open the Class AA state quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Friday at St. Cloud State University when they clash with second-ranked Eden Valley Watkins (11-0), a team that hasn’t missed the state tournament since 2003.
The Rebels aren’t scared though. They know November football is their favorite time to play.
“Now, the state championship is the ultimate goal,” said Gassert. “It’s one game at a time, but being there last year is just going to fuel the fire. We want it even more.”
A win would move the Rebels to the state semifinals which are set for Nov. 20, while the Prep Bowl follows on Nov. 26. Both contests are at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.