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Rebels, Bombers return lots of talent

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Wearing his canopy hat, whistle and instructing quarterback Brad Fossum at Monday afternoon’s football practice, Moose Lake-Willow River Coach Dave Louzek pointed his hand out, seemingly signaling for a first down.

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That will be a sign made by many officials this fall, as the Rebels — the area’s most-dominant high school program for the last decade — hope to down their opponents, as usual.

Opponents frequently fear ML-WR, and for good reason. Not only have the Rebels run their way to three of the past five Class AA Prep Bowl appearances, but they are the eight-time defending Section 7AA champions, without a hiccup.

On top of that, ML-WR has managed to win an absurd 62 consecutive regular season games, including seven straight unbeaten regular seasons and 45 home victories in a row.

Yet according to Coach Louzek, now entering his 16th season, streaks don’t matter — rather, preparing for November does.

“Our No. 1 goal is to get to the section championship, because that’s the game that gets you in the tournament,” said Louzek, who continuously reloads his program as opposed to rebuilding each year. “The expectations are to step up to that challenge and improve each game.”

This season’s opening game could be a dandy, as the Rebels travel to Hermantown tonight, Thursday, Aug. 28, to face the Hawks in a rematch of last year’s unforgettable start.

Starting under center will again be the senior Fossum, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound righty, who will be assisted in the backfield by running back tandem Josh Pettersen and David Moonen, both seniors. All three experience-laden players return to the 11-1 Rebels as captains with senior Jeremiah Chavez.

Ava Szczyrbak, a junior girl, is listed on ML-WR’s 64-player roster, too, joining a team that surprisingly fell 31-20 to Minneota in last year’s Class AA state quarterfinal opener.

“It’s crazy to think that losing in the state quarterfinal is a disappointing season, but that definitely left a sour taste in our mouths,” said Fossum, noting their smaller-than-normal team is fueled to return. “It’ll be exciting to see what we can do.”

 Bombers return experience

Barnum, which suffered a 28-20 loss in the Section 7A final last season, can do a lot this fall with the return of 36 players for third-year Coach Brian Robertson, including many of talent.

Seasoned linemen Tommy Ziegler and Nathan Jelinek, both senior captains, are back for a 9-2 team, along with their biggest threat in senior captain quarterback Brandon Newman.

“He’s our leader, our go-to guy,” said Robertson of Newman. “He touches the ball every time.”

“We got some guys who can catch, too,” added Newman.