MINNEAPOLIS — Having won five football games in a row, including four on the brink of elimination, Moose Lake-Willow River was riding a whirlwind of a turnaround and sat just one win shy of a fourth Prep Bowl appearance.
Then came along Tyl Woelber and the Pipestone Area football team.
Woelber showed exactly why he is of interest to Division I schools, as the ultra-athletic senior gave a new meaning to "doing everything" in the Arrows' 28-6 victory over the Rebels in a Class AA state semifinal Friday, Nov. 17, at the Minnesota Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
"There's nothing the kid can't do," said Pipestone coach Clay Anderson of Woelber, who caught 28- and 71-yard touchdowns and even tossed a left-handed 64-yard score to teammate Garrett Ploeger, all in the second quarter.
"He's a phenomenal athlete," Anderson said. "He's one of our sparks — a huge spark."
The 6-foot, 170-pounder may not look like much, but watch him run, jump, pass and kick — yes, he's the Arrows' punter and kicker as well — and you'll surely think otherwise.
Anderson noted that Woelber, a state triple and high jumper, leapt 6 feet, 7 inches last spring. That was good enough to catch the interest of the University of Minnesota, as Anderson said Woelber may trade in his football pads to run track and field for the Golden Gophers.
"At this level, teams have those special players," ML-WR coach Dave Louzek said. "And in big games, they come out."
Woelber, who accounted for 188 total yards, deflected praise toward his teammates.
"I get the glamor, but they're the ones that really make it happen," said Woelber, speaking in the Vikings' press conference room afterward. "I do a lot, but it's because of them. The chemistry we all have is awesome."
The sixth-ranked Arrows (12-1) now face No. 1 Caledonia (12-0) — the state's two-time defending champs and winners of 40 straight — in Friday's Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank. The Warriors are seeking their eighth title in the last 11 years.
The Rebels (7-6) know Caledonia all too well, after losing to the juggernauts in the 2011 and 2012 finals. ML-WR also fell in the 2009 Prep Bowl and was just one win from another try.
The never-quitting Rebels, led by junior Trent Juhl's 136 rushing yards on 24 carries and lone TD to start the scoring in the first quarter before Pipestone did the rest, just fell short.
"In a game like this where you have two great teams, momentum is everything," said Louzek, whose Rebels started 2-5 before starting a wild 34-day win streak. "They hit a couple of big plays, got a hold of the momentum and kept it."
"Their linebackers are pretty good and flow to the ball really well," added Juhl, crediting Pipestone junior linebacker Matt Enger, who had 10 solo tackles and 11 assists. "We couldn't get a guy on No. 50 (Enger), and he just tore us apart."
That was anything but the case leading up to last week. ML-WR was perhaps the hottest prep team in the state. Louzek said that stemmed from having fun at practice again, including games of dodgeball, basketball and even snowball fights.
"Rebel football during the regular season is always about getting better each week. Our whole focus is playoff football," said Louzek, owning a career record of 176-44 in his 19 years. "Our kids got that message from Week 1 and never gave up. That's what makes this year so special."
Special was certainly the scene for Louzek before the game, as the coach spent some time with his son, Dilon, a senior linebacker who paced ML-WR with three solo tackles and eight against Pipestone.
For a coach usually good with his words, the elder Louzek was a bit emotional when describing an experience with the youngest of his two children, once a ball boy and now Rebel leader.
"When we got here to the stadium, I found him, and Dilon and I just walked around the corridors a little bit, spending some time away from everybody," Dave Louzek said. "It was a chance for me to tell him how proud I am of him, and how I've really enjoyed being a part of all this with him. A lot of dads don't get to experience this, and as a father, you can't beat it."