Shh. Don't talk about rankings yet, but Moose Lake-Willow River ought to get a nice boost from last weekend's win in St. Paul.
The Rebels headed to the Twin Cities for a matchup against Class AAAA St. Paul Como Park. Trouble, right?
Coach Dave Louzek told me before the season that his players were nervous thinking about the fourth game on their schedule. But once the game was played, the nervousness evaporated, and the Northerners walked out with a 17-7 win against a school two levels above them which entered the game with a winning record.
"We expected a faster and more physical game," Louzek said. "We talked about that since the first week."
The Cougars opened the game with a pair of quick first downs, which rammed home the need for the Rebels to play a faster, more physical game. That's what they did.
"We made them punt, our first carry was for 50 yards and on our second play, we scored," Louzek said. "That helped the kids realize we could compete."
Not only did the Rebels compete, they excelled. The Rebels built a 14-0 halftime lead on enemy turf and wound up winning by 10.
It does beg the question, though, even though Louzek says he doesn't care about the answer: How long will the Rebels stay fourth in the rankings despite being last year's state runners-up and slaying a bigger Twin Cities school in its own lair?
Waterville-Elysian-Morristown is top dog in the state and, as the team that beat the Rebels in last year's state finals, deserves to be top-ranked until someone knocks them off. The Buccaneers have now won 13 straight games and, though they haven't yet faced a ranked opponent, they have yet to be tested.
Eden-Valley Watkins is next, with the Eagles surrendering their first points of the season in a 27-6 win against previously fifth-ranked Pierz.
Then comes Luverne, which squeaked out a 7-0 win last week against 1-2 Pipestone. Eden-Valley Watkins edged Pipestone 33-0 in the season's first game.
So where does that leave the Rebels?
With their eyes focused squarely on their own bobbers, that's where.
"Don't even bring up the rankings," Louzek warned. "All our goals as a program are geared to how we finish in the playoffs. It's not about winning streaks, it's not about rankings. It's about how far we get in the playoffs every year."
That's fair. But being able to play a larger school which defeated four other St. Paul schools a season ago ought to count for something.
However, for Louzek what counts most is the boost the victory gives to his team's level of intensity.
"We talked about playing a faster, more physical game," he said. "At the 4A level it's faster and more physical. If we play at this level now, we can't take a step backward. If the teams we play aren't as fast or as physical, we need to use that advantage and widen it."
All that said, Louzek is still proud of his players. Why wouldn't he be?
"As a coach sometimes it's just like being a parent," he said. "There is a nervousness ahead of time in how [the players] are going to handle it. Seeing the excitement and seeing how they handled it, you can't be more proud."
Even if the rankings boost doesn't matter a hill of beans. Be proud, Moose Lake. Your kids have earned everything they've received.