Rebels are hungry... and Mesabi East is on the menuWhen the Rebels (9-0) take on Mesabi East (6-4) of Aurora, Minn., tonight for a rare Halloween tilt at PSS, it’ll mark their 10th straight appearance in the section finals.
By: Brady Slater, Pine Journal
DULUTH, Public School Stadium — It was like no other Tuesday along the Denfeld High School campus. What is that hollering red and blue mirage through the snowflakes? Who are those guys?
It’s the Moose Lake-Willow River football team. They’re led by 15-year coach Dave Louzek and their list of accomplishments — like a planet-threatening energy orb in a Marvel Comics movie — is ever-growing. When the Rebels (9-0) take on Mesabi East (6-4) of Aurora, Minn., tonight for a rare Halloween tilt at PSS, it’ll mark their 10th straight appearance in the section finals. The Rebels are going for their eighth straight state appearance in the 7AA section championship game, playing a team they’d last played in 2010 as part of their ongoing 62-game regular season winning streak. The score of that meeting was 75-0, Rebels.
That was a season opening game. The playoffs, for Louzek’s team, bring out a different monster altogether.
“Our kids understand the state tournament is much more physical,” Louzek said, “I think it’s tough for teams to out-physical us because of our state playoff experience. Everything this time of year is that much faster, that much more physical.
“We were trying to get to our state-level of fast and physical today.”
Tuesday’s annual PSS turf practice (which Louzek was grateful for his administration’s OK’ing for the middle of the school day) was a raucous affair that showed just how much T-E-A-M is inside this team. Louzek runs his ship with a smile on his face. He’s engaging players constantly. He’s never frantic, but always on the move. One moment he’s snaking the sideline, the next he’s in the huddle, then he’s placing the ball for snap. He’s responsive to everything. Between snaps of a drill he noticed a single receiver’s glove alone on the turf, prompting him to ask an underclassman to pair it with its match. Nothing slips his periphery. Especially the fact that today’s team isn’t the same from 10 years ago, or even two years ago. In Louzek’s way of thinking, there’s no reason for today’s team to feel it has to protect the entirety of what the program has accomplished.
“We don’t want them to feel any extra pressure — of the winning streak, of the state appearances …” he said. “We’re always thinking about how to make it more fun than anything.”
Practices, then, are built to perform and to let off steam. Tuesday’s ended with a JV scrimmage for a half hour. At a time when other programs pack their JV squads into crates for next season, the Rebels trot out theirs to culminate practice.
“It gives the young guys some game experience and the varsity guys have some fun cheering,” said Louzek, who acknowledged a loose vibe within the program that might not be for everybody. “It’s always been kind of our signature. If people from the outside watched us they might shake their heads.”
Ezra Szczyrbak is a senior defensive end/offensive right guard for the team. He’s Rebel through and through. Big and lean. Likely mean on the field, but a conversationalist off of it.
“After practice we hang out for two hours in the locker room,” he said. “It’s like a second home for most of us. Sometimes I don’t leave ’til 9 or 10 at night.”
The loose vibe doesn’t make these marauding Rebels. Rather, it makes them tight-knit. There’s “Karaoke Wednesdays” mixed with traditional spaghetti feasts. Field trips to water parks to kick start the season, followed by team challenges throughout it. For two years running, Louzek has implemented leadership teams — four of them, each headed by four seniors who draft their respective rosters. Each team gets points for lifting weights, watching film, getting an A on a test, on and on like that. There are weekly rewards, and monthly pizza parties for the best and most consistent teams within the team. The worst team has to clean the locker room.
How is Szczyrbak’s team doing this year?
“Not so good,” he said. “But I don’t mind cleaning up. I’m the last man anyway. First one in, last one out. That’s an important thing for a leader and that’s what I try to be.”
Against Eveleth-Gilbert in a section semifinal Oct. 26, David Moonen rushed for 176 yards and two scores — complemented by 116 yards and two scores on just four touches from Jon Evenson — as the Rebels ran away with it 58-13.
Tonight, the Giants will attempt to keep the Rebels from state. Louzek expects Mesabi East will try to punch Moose Lake-Willow River in the mouth. The Rebels might be coming off a spaghetti feast, but the guess is they’ll still be hungry.