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Rebels dethrone Royals, head back to State

Moose Lake-Willow River's Logan Peterson makes a tackle on Royalton quarterback Gavin Suska during Thursday night's Section 7AA championship game in Esko. The Rebels defeated Royals 29-15 and will play in the state quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, at Brainerd High School. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 2
Moose Lake-Willow River's Jeremiah Weidendorf carries the ball during the first of his two first-half interceptions in Thursday's Section 7AA championship game against Royalton. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 2


ESKO—Having his first postseason off in a decade last fall, Dave Louzek admitted it was a strange feeling not getting to coach his Moose Lake-Willow River football team during what has become such a routine time on the Rebels' calendar.

Last Thursday, though, things got back to normal.

For the 11th time in 12 seasons, ML-WR made its way to the top of Section 7AA, when the Rebels dethroned defending champ Royalton 29-15 on a blustery night last week at Esko Stadium.

Not only did the two-touchdown victory reignite the Rebels' reign on top of 7AA, but more importantly, it returned ML-WR to a place that has been become much their second home: the state tournament. The red-hot Rebels (6-5), winners of four straight, will face West Central Area (7-4) in a Class AA state quarterfinal Friday at 7 p.m. in Brainerd.

"It's been a year, but it seems like forever," said Louzek, who is now 175-43 over his career, including 12-2 in section finals. "It's amazing what these kids do."

That winning tradition was not as evident on Oct. 13, when Louzek's bunch was sitting 2-5, losers of four in a row and the ones trying eliminate their turnovers, penalties and errors.

Yet, 28 days later, here sit the Rebels, still alive and rolling, having turned the tide into a team that has outscored its playoff foes 97-28 and showing no signs of slowing down.

Last week, junior Jeremiah Weidendorf intercepted a pair of first-half Royalton passes, while senior Thomas Gulso duplicated the feat after the break. On top of that, junior Logan Peterson seemed to have more tackles than Royalton had points, and classmate Anikan Oswald again ran for three touchdowns as he did the week before and ML-WR looked mighty good.

In fact, the Rebels, seeded third, never trailed last week.

"We've come together as a family," senior quarterback Ian Coil said between frigid celebratory cell phone photos.

"These kids have gotten better each week and they're playing their best football right now," added Louzek.

Exhibit A: Do-it-all Riley Smieja, who entered the game with 1,163 rushing yards, led the top-seeded Royals with 192 yards and a score, but couldn't get in from four yards out on four tries in last week's final quarter.

"Obviously they have a great program with a great tradition," Royalton coach Jamie Morford said. "Hats off to what they're doing. Hopefully one day we can emulate them."

As for ML-WR, they're feeling right back at home again.

"We always talk about being here," Oswald said of state.

"And we don't want it to end any time soon," added Coil.





State Class AA Quarterfinals:

Moose Lake-Willow River vs. West Central Area

7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10

at Brainerd High School

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