Prep football: Knights contain Orvedahl as Rebels fall in Class AA state quarterfinals

West Central Area/Ashby uses its passing attack to win defensive showdown.

Moose Lake-Willow River and West Central / Ashby players go after a fumbled ball Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, during the Class AA state quarterfinals in Brainerd. The Knights took possession on the play. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD, Minn. — Moose Lake-Willow River senior running back Logan Orvedahl said that whenever he lined up in the Class AA state football quarterfinals against West Central Area/Ashby, he heard players on the other side yelling his name, so everyone knew where he was at all times.

West Central Area/Ashby effectively contained the Rebels’ superstar running back while getting 243 passing yards and a touchdown from quarterback Evan Paulson, and the result was a 14-6 victory Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, at Brainerd High School as the Knights march on to the Class AA semifinals.

“Every time I was in the I (formation), they were shouting my number and flowing to me. It was just a tough way to go out,” Orvedahl said. “We were doing all sorts of stuff to try to get open looks. We had a great game plan, but they had our number today.”

Jackson Thompson rushed 14 times for 113 yards to lead MLWR while Orvedahl, who had more than 1,300 rushing yards in just eight games, was held to a season-low 75 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.

West Central Area/Ashby (10-1) will play Friday’s Pipestone/Maple River winner at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 19, in the state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.


Knights coach Nate Wood said he was concerned about Thursday’s weather because his team is extremely balanced, to the point where the Knights have thrown for just as many yards as they have run for, something you don’t see very often in the high school ranks.

“I was really worried the whole week, but when we got here it was beautiful,” Wood said. “Any precipitation that we had was coming straight down, so it didn’t really have an impact. I looked at the radar, and there was like a line right above us, with everything to the north, and I was like, whew!”

While much of northern Minnesota had freezing rain or snow, Brainerd was spared for the most part, with temperatures in the 30s and a light breeze. Whatever snow that fell in the second half didn’t really stick.

“It’s a focal point for us to be balanced, in the sense that at any down or distance we can run or pass the ball,” Wood said. “Obviously, Moose Lake-Willow River is a great team with a great defense. They forced us out of that a little bit tonight.”

Moose Lake-Willow River (8-1), which thumped the Knights in the 2017 state quarterfinals in a freezing blizzard in Brainerd, came into the contest ranked fourth in Class AA, having outscored opponents by 50-7 per contest.

“The Rebels show you who they are. They just say, ‘We’re good at this, and we’re going to do it,’ and it works really well for them,” Wood said. “They’re a great team and are very well coached. Their kids are physical, but our kids responded really well to that tonight.”

The Rebels looked like they might steamroll yet another opponent as they marched right down the field on the game’s opening drive only to have it end on a fumble at the Knights’ 10. That was an ominous sign of things to come as Moose Lake-Willow River struggled to convert on short fourth-down plays, including a fourth and 2 at the Knights' 3 just before halftime as West Central Area/Ashby took a 6-0 lead into the break.

The Knights’ made it 14-0 on their opening drive of the second half as Cole Anderson got behind the MLWR defense for an easy 24-yard TD toss from Paulson.


“We stayed in it,” MLWR coach Dave Louzek said. “That’s what we always talk about, to play four full quarters, especially when you get to this point where every team is a good team. There’s not going to be any blowouts like these kids have been used to.

“A big play here or there and it could have been different, but ultimately, we struggled stopping their passing game, and that cost us.”

Moose Lake-Willow River finally got on the scoreboard when Orvedahl scored from 9 yards out at 5:23 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Rebels got the ball back and drove to the Knights’ 38 with just over a minute remaining before the drive stalled. On fourth down, quarterback Adam Neumann overthrew tight end Sam Knezevich on their last play of the game.

The 6-foot, 205-pound Orvedahl is a four-sport athlete but plans to play football at the next level. He said he is getting “plenty” of college interest but didn’t want to get into the specifics, and besides, it is way too early to think that far ahead as this one will sting for a while. Every high school player wants to make the state tournament, but playing at the neutral locations across the region isn’t quite the same as playing at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“That was the goal, but we weren’t quite able to do it,” Orvedahl said, getting emotional. “You couldn’t ask for a better team and better coaching staff. It was a tough fight, but it didn’t roll our way this time.”

MLWR featured nine seniors who helped Louzek notched career victory No. 200 earlier this season.

“It’s all about kids,” Louzek said. “It’s not about coaching records or championships or anything like that. It’s about the kids having fun and coming together as family and learning some life lessons, and I think this group like all of our other Rebel groups are coming out better people from being a part of this program.”

Moose Lake-Willow River 0-0-0-6—6


West Central Area/Ashby 0-6-8-0—14

WCAA — Anthony Sykora 3 run (kick blocked)

WCAA — Cole Anderson 24 pass from Evan Paulson (Anderson pass from Paulson)

MLWR — Logan Orvedahl 9 run (pass failed)

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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