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Esko rolls over Rebels on the road

Esko quarterback Brendan Durand throws a pass during Friday night's football game at Moose Lake-Willow River. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 2
Esko senior Branden Matteen escapes Moose Lake-Willow River's Remington Starck on a 37-yard touchdown catch during Friday night's football game in Willow River. Matteen scored three touchdowns in the 39-15 Esko win. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 2

Esko football coach Scott Arntson was well pleased after the first quarter of Friday's football showdown against Moose Lake-Willow River.

On the road, his team scored the first three touchdowns — all by senior Branden Matteen — and his team led 18-8.

"We were always hoping to get off to a good start," Arntson said. "Each game we have done pretty well at the start but haven't always translated that into points."

This time, though, the points kept coming. Three second-half touchdowns allowed Esko (3-1) to build a 39-8 lead and they cruised to a 39-15 win at the home of their rivals.

"They (Esko) beat us on the offensive and defensive lines," Rebels coach Dave Louzek said. "They controlled both sides of the ball. They are a very well-coached team, one of the better Esko teams we have played in recent years."

Esko's spread-option offense was clicking from the beginning, with Matteen scoring on a five-yard run, a 55-yard pass from Brendan Durand, and a 64-yard punt return in the first quarter. For the game, Matteen had 85 yards rushing, 74 yards receiving and 52 yards passing, making him a true triple threat. Esko rolled up 377 yards of offense against the Rebels.

Ryan Nelson, Durand and Aaron Moore scored the second-half touchdowns for the Eskomos, while Colton Little and Eli Werner scored for the Rebels (2-2).

Still, though, the Eskomos are on a search for consistency.

"Our defense has been playing well for the last couple weeks and so have the special teams, but the offense hasn't been pulling its weight," Arntson said. "The Moose Lake game was the first one where all three phases were working for us.

"In our other games we've shot ourselves in the foot," he added. "Penalties, turnovers, everything. Our focus is on eliminating them and executing the offense."

For Louzek, the focus is different.

"We have to be more physical," he said. "We've stressed that since the Hermantown game, and it was evident against Esko that we have a lack of physicality. On the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, we aren't dominant. We don't move our feet and we don't move people. Right now, we are not a very physical team. But we've had our two best days of practice all season this week so we hope that all will change."

For Arntson, improvement is the thing.

"I think we are getting there," he said. "It's a process from last year. You can see in our film that we've improved. Our offense makes players make decisions and you have to learn how to make them. That's what we're doing."

Louzek's focus is getting his players focused.

"Getting behind puts us behind the eight ball, and passing is not our focus," he said. "It never has been and it never will be. We didn't have that Rebel football mindset. You could see it in our body language. We really focused on that this week. We can't be showing that we look defeated. You have to stay in the game for four quarters. The players understand that and will use it to get better."

Esko is at Pine City this week while the Rebels face Mora.

"Mora is a very physical team like Esko, and they might be the best team we see this year," Louzek said. "Their game film reminds me of some of our better teams. They sprint to the line of scrimmage, they wear you down and we have to have a big effort. There has been no lack of effort from these kids and we do not question that."

The Eskomos are looking to start fine-tuning.

"We're not there yet," Arntson said. "Offensively, we either strike big or we're punting. We need to keep the chains moving and run the option more consistently. We don't really have that bread-and-butter play that gets you 3-4-5 yards when you need it, but we hope it's coming."

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