ESKO -- Exploding down artificial turf sidelines, Nick Emanuel looks fast, but perhaps not as fast as the backup Esko quarterback has learned how to play at wide receiver.
Emanuel was on the receiving end of three first-half touchdowns Tuesday, helping ease the Eskomos by Virginia 51-20 in a Section 7AAA prep football playoff opener on a 34-degree night at Esko Stadium where players and fans could see their breath in the cold night air.
Emanuel, a 6-foot, 155-pound sophomore, is a one of several reserve quarterbacks for senior starter Marc Peterson, but since junior wide out Aaron Olson's separated shoulder injury three weeks ago at Proctor, Emanuel's made the switch.
"I'm just doing my job -- whatever I can do to help," said the athletic Emanuel, also a kick and punt returner and listed as a defensive back. "I'll play wherever they need me."
"He's our deep threat," Esko Coach Bill Hudspith said.
The second-seeded Eskomos (6-3) threatened Virginia early Tuesday, after Emanuel caught first-quarter touchdown passes of 75 and 35 yards, then added a 50-yarder a quarter later for his part in escalating Esko to a 43-0 halftime advantage.
"Marc put the ball on the money all three times," Emanuel said. "This is one of the best games I've had. It feels good."
Peterson, meanwhile, credited his receivers.
"I just kind of air it out there and they make me look good," he said. "We're coming together as a team."
Togetherness has been tough this fall, as the Eskomos -- now winners of three straight -- have battled a bundle of injuries.
From the sideline Tuesday, Olson said he'd likely return for Saturday's semifinal against Duluth Marshall. A win there would likely pit Esko against Proctor in the final on Halloween night, with the opportunity to duplicate last season's state trip.
"They got a taste and want to get back" Hudspith said.
"Two games away, but one at a time," Peterson added.
This time of season is when Moose Lake-Willow River (8-0) romps through Section 7AA. Champions each of the last seven years, the top-seeded Rebels -- ranked second in the Class AA polls -- have won 44 consecutive home games entering Saturday's semifinal with Eveleth-Gilbert in Willow River after an opening-round bye.
By now, ML-WR is an easy pick to trounce all section foes, having only lost to No. 1 Caledonia in the Prep Bowl over the past two years. The Rebels, boasting another Great Polar White conference crown and seventh straight unbeaten regular season this fall, have outscored their foes 297-70.
Like ML-WR and Esko, second-seeded Cloquet is just two games from a state berth, as the Lumberjacks (7-1) earned an opening-round bye and will host Princeton in a Section 7AAAA semifinal Saturday, a game Cloquet lost 35-29 in overtime last season.
"We have to come out clicking," said running back Austin Gotchnik, who leads the Lumberjacks in touchdowns this fall.
"It's nice to get some rest, but we have to remain focused," added quarterback Maxx Brenner. "Especially after last year, we have to show up, execute and come out flying."
Cloquet Coach Tom Lenarz said his boys will be ready Saturday, but jokingly noted their bye can better be told after.
"If we win, it helps, if we don't, it doesn't," he said, laughing.