Rebels meet their match in state quarterfinalML-WR runs into their equal, falls 21-6 in state quarterfinals Friday
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — All season long, the Moose Lake-Willow River football team has pummeled their opponents in every aspect of the game.
Friday night they met their match. For that matter, they got a taste of their own medicine.
The third-ranked Rebels simply ran into a superior foe Friday, as a second-ranked, well-experienced Eden Valley-Watkins team beat up ML-WR 21-6 in a Class AA state quarterfinal game at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud, Minn.
“Eden-Valley-Watkins is one of the best programs in the state,” said longtime Rebels head coach Dave Louzek afterward. “They've got great athletes all over the field.”
Combining their explosive offensive attack and lock-down defense, the unbeaten Eagles (12-0) scored the first three touchdowns on the clear-skied evening, as they overpowered the Rebels all game long.
“All the credit to them,” said Louzek of Eden Valley-Watkins. “They run a great offense and defensively, they made the plays when they needed to. They’re the best we’ve seen all year.”
Coming into Friday, ML-WR was making its fifth-straight state tournament appearance and seventh in school history. Yet, EV-Watkins topped those gaudy numbers, making their seventh-straight showing at the state’s pinnacle. And it showed.
“They’ve been here and know what this is all about, just like we do,” continued Louzek of the Eagles, who avenged a previous 16-6 quarterfinal loss to the Rebels back in 2006. “When you get two good teams together, that’s where the mental sharpness comes into play and we made a couple mistakes.”
After a scoreless opening quarter, the Eagles got their high-octane offense up and rolling in the second, as they capitalized on a Rebels’ punt, charging 53 yards on five plays, capped off with a 27-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Brendan Ashton to senior wide receiver Kevin Kramer.
Eight minutes later, EV-Watkins punched it in again on a 2-yard plunge from senior Jake Forcier to lead 14-0. The score topped off a final-minute drive by the Eagles that went 75 yards on 10 plays, again following a punt by ML-WR.
EV-Watkins has outscored their opponents 346-25 in the opening frame this fall. The Rebels found that out the hard way Friday, trailing at halftime for the first time this year.
“It was unfamiliar,” said Louzek of the early deficit.
Though in unfamiliar territory, the Rebels didn’t fold. Charging 72 yards in their opening third-quarter drive, ML-WR came knocking on the door.
Yet, a fourth-and-3 stop by the Eagles halted the Rebels on their first trip to the red zone. And following the emotional stuffing, EV-Watkins stormed 89 yards for another TD, again to Forcier on a fourth-down, 25-yard heave from Ashton.
At 21-0, the game was then, seemingly over entering the fourth.
“Credit to their defense,” said Louzek. “We live and die by our offense. We rely on the power running game. When you match up against another team with great athletes, they can stuff you. They were able to shut us down and play us very tough, physically.”
ML-WR received a late score on a fumble recovery by senior Nathan VanZee to get on the board, but it was merely courtesy points. Friday was all about the Eagles.
The Rebels just didn’t have it going. Their go-to run game – with over 4,000 yards this fall – was completely shut down, while their defense had woes and offense never found the find the end zone.
But heck, the Eagles might win the whole thing.
“They could,” Louzek said of the 2005 state champs, who advance to Saturday’s semifinals at the Metrodome. “They have the potential to win everything every year. To be the best [you] have to beat the best. There are no regrets on who we had to play. I’m glad it was them. They were just the better team tonight.”
The Rebels trailed the whole game and finished the year 11-1. Next fall; however, don’t expect anything different from kids of ML-WR. They’ll be punishing their opponents just as much.
Friday, they just ran into a mirror image of themselves.
“We lose great athletes every year, but those kids coming up, it’s their turn to step in and be the next great Rebel football athletes,” Louzek said. “It was a lot of work to get this program where it is, and it’s a lot more work to stay at this level. But that’s where the kids are doing the work. But year after year, they keep this program going.”