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Rebels topple rival Eskomos

Esko's Corey Kauma (23) breaks a tackle on a run against the Moose Lake-Willow River Rebels during the Friday, Sept. 21, matchup in Esko. Dan Saletel / Pine Journal 1 / 3
Moose Lake-Willow River's Brady Watrin (4) celebrates a touchdown with teammate Logan Peterson (61) after a touchdown run against the Esko Eskomos on Friday, Sept. 21. Dan Saletel / Pine Journal2 / 3
Moose Lake-Willow River's Trent Juhl (23) gets a block from his brother, Blake Juhl (32), on one of many carries Trent had against Esko on Friday, Sept. 21. Dan Saletel / Pine Journal3 / 3

When Esko and Moose Lake-Willow River meet on the football field, the games always seem to have some drama, which adds to the strong rivalry.

The game Friday, Sept. 21, was more of the same as the two teams battled in Esko, with the Rebels pulling out a hard-fought 22-14 win.

"Esko and ML-WR games are traditionally a tough-fought contest," Esko coach Scott Arntson said. "The game ended up just as I thought it would and it came down to a play or two being the difference."

The Rebels struck first with 10:30 remaining in the first quarter when quarterback Mason Olson hit fellow sophomore Brady Watrin for a 41-yard touchdown catch-and-run, making it 6-0 after the two-point conversion failed.

"Mason and Brady are both very athletic 10th-graders," Rebels coach Dave Louzek said. "Brady is tall and has the ability to jump and go get the ball if Mason puts it anywhere near him."

Esko responded with just a bit over four minutes remaining in the first half when senior running back Luke Wagemaker ripped off an 80-yard touchdown scamper, which tied it at 6-6 at the half.

"We ran an option play," Arntson said. "They stunted away and we hit the play at the right time."

The Rebels like to grind the football at the defense of their opponents. The Eskomos can score quickly if the opposition defense makes a mistake.

"We had some longer and time consuming drives which helped at keeping Esko's offense off the field," Louzek said. "They have the ability to score quickly, but we will have to get better at finishing off drives and putting points on the board if we hope to be competitive in the playoffs."

ML-WR relied on the running of Trent and Blake Juhl through much of the game, with Trent giving the Rebels a 14-6 lead on a 3-yard touchdown run as well as the two-point conversion run early in the the third quarter.

"Trent had 32 carries for 198-yards and two touchdowns," Louzek said. "Both Trent and Blake are hardworking, athletic kids, but we wouldn't have had that kind of rushing performance without our offensive line stepping up, being physical, and opening holes for our backs."

Esko again answered back in the third quarter when Aaron Moore bulled in from the 2-yard line and Preston Lowe ran for the two-point conversion, knotting things up at 14-14.

While the Rebels tended to feed off the running game of the Juhl brothers, Esko was equally feeding off their passing attack from brothers Mason and Dylan Vinje. Mason, a senior quarterback, passed for 156 yards, while brother Dylan, a junior, provided 97 yards of catches.

"Mason and Dylan have been key players for us; however, we have four wide receivers with 10 or more catches this season and three running backs that run the ball for us," Arntson said.

The Rebels unofficially rushed for 282 yards, while adding 68 yards in the air. The Eskomo attack was balanced with 156 yards passing and 139 yards on the ground. Esko was 4-9 in third down efficiency while ML-WR went 5-14 on third downs.

Trent Juhl capped off the scoring late in the third quarter with a one-yard touchdown plunge with Adam Dragicevich providing the two-point conversion for the final score of 22-14.

"Rebel football has always been about kids stepping up and being ready to play," Louzek said. "For us to play into November and participate in the state tournament, we have expectations that all kids will be ready to play, and when they get their chance to be just as good as the kid they are replacing."

The win was the third straight win for the Rebels after they opened the season with a loss to Hermantown.

Esko opened the season with a three-touchdown loss to Cloquet, but since have lost three in a row to Two Harbors, Greenway/Nashwauk/Keewatin and now ML-WR, all by a touchdown or less.