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Rebels, Bombers will start with battle for Brown Jug

Moose Lake-Willow River's Bryceton Butkiewicz gets by tacklers during Tuesday's practice. The Rebels are practicing behind the Moose Lake High School while the new Moose Lake school is being built. Dave Harwig/ 1 / 2
Moose Lake-Willow River football coach Dave Louzek talks to his team during a break in practice Tuesday. Dave Harwig/ 2 / 2

Racking up thousands of yards throughout their careers as Moose Lake-Willow River football players, Bryceton Butkiewicz and Isaac Riihiluoma are just two running backs among the many in the Rebels rich backfield history.

When asked to describe the pair of backfield battery mates, Butkiewicz considered fleet-footed Riihiluoma “the lightning,” and himself, a bruising 6-foot, 205-pound runner, “the thunder.”

"I guess you can say that," said Butkiewicz with a laugh.

With the senior duo back for another season, one can say with confidence that ML-WR is again the favorite to win Section 7AA this fall. After all, they have won the past 10 and advanced to state.

Yet, as always under coach Dave Louzek, now in his 18th season with the program he has masterminded, one thing always leads to the next. The Rebels have lost plenty of regular season contests, going 5-3 last year, until peaking during playoffs and proving, once again, they are the team to beat up north.

ML-WR doesn't rebuild, but simply reloads.

"We've been coming in Thursday mornings and working on plays since last winter," said Butkiewicz, in his fourth season on the varsity. "It's great to get the pads back on and get moving at full speed."

Talking about speed, Butkiewicz has plenty of it to go along with his pounding frame. Riihiluoma is even quicker, making the 1-2 punch one to key on this fall. But Butkiewicz said there are plenty more plays in the book to assist their well-known double-wing backfield attack.

That may be the scene next Thursday, Sept. 1, when Willow River, as always, will be packed to see its Rebels host rival Barnum in a battle for the Brown Jug. The historic memento has been traveling between the pair of schools for years.

Losing 21-20 to United North Central in the state quarterfinals a year ago, one can bet ML-WR will be chomping to play the Bombers next week. Louzek is as cool and calm as they come, having his teams always ready, while Butkiewicz said there aren't many other games like Barnum.

"We always have a packed crowd, but Barnum and Esko games are really packed," said Butkiewicz, who returns opening kicks with Riihiluoma. "It should be really fun."

"We're excited to play them," said second-year Barnum coach Mike Klyve. "Coach Louzek has built a program that has to be respected. It'll be fun to go over there and put ourselves up against the best in the area."

Speaking of the Bombers, Barnum went winless a season ago at 0-9 in Klyve's inaugural season as head coach. That surely won’t be the case this time around, as the Bombers boast 36 players and lost only three graduates from last year, meaning a majority of the offense and defense return, including seniors to watch Colton Ziegler, Logan McNulty and newcomer Reese Parks.

Klyve is confident their goose egg from last fall will diminish.

"That's definitely the goal," he said.

Still, leading off with ML-WR is as tough a draw as one gets. But they’re not too worried.

"That's all they've been talking about all year. They want to get down there and play Moose," Klyve added. "We want to go play the best, let the kids fall where they may and see where we stand.

"There's a lot of community pride in both places," continued Klyve. "It's always a big one."