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Rebels headed back to state as 7AA football champs again

Jaxsyn Schmidt ran for 174 yards in just the first half.

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Moose Lake/Willow River's Kaden Robbins looks for running room on Thursday as the Rebels faced the Crosby-Ironton Rangers in the Section 7AA final at Esko.
Steve Kohls / Forum News Service
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ESKO — For the fifth time in six years the Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels will represent Section 7AA in the state tournament.

The top-seeded Rebels scored early and then dominated the line of scrimmage to eliminate the No. 2 seeded Crosby-Ironton Rangers 25-0 Thursday, Nov. 3, in the section final at Esko Stadium.

Turnovers had been the key to C-I’s second-half-of-the-season surge that saw them go from 1-4 to 5-4, but it was a turnover that put the Rangers down early.

On the opening play of the game, C-I fumbled the ball away on its own 19. Two plays later, Jaxsyn Schmidt rushed in from 12 yards out for a 6-0 Rebels lead.

“You can’t start better in a championship game,” MLWR head coach Dave Louzek said. “To have that kind of start and that kind of momentum right off the bat just kind of takes some of the air out of their game a little bit. We just kept the pressure on them from there on out.”

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C-I turned the ball over just three times in its last four games — all wins, but lost the turnover battle Thursday 2-1.

“That was pretty deflating,” Ranger head coach Bryan Syrstad said of the opening turnover. “We needed to bounce back from it and we didn’t.”

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Moose Lake/Willow River's Jaxsyn Schmidt looks for an opening before scoring one of his three touchdowns in the Rebels 25-0 Section 7AA finals victory on Thursday against Crosby-Ironton in Esko.
Steve Kohls / Forum News Service

MLWR’s Schmidt rushed for 174 yards in the first half alone and scored all three touchdowns of the opening half.

His second was a bit farther out as he busted through the line of scrimmage and sprinted 91 yards for a 13-0 Rebels lead.

His third score handed MLWR its 19-0 halftime lead. The junior back needed just 1 yard to break the end zone.

“That’s our style of play to be really physical and just move the pile,” Louzek said. “To compete at a state level you have to be good with 3- and 4-yard runs and just wear a team down and keep the chains moving. We have athletic enough kids that if they can break through that 3 or 4 yards they have track speed and they’re gone. We had some of those long runs that really broke their back early in the game.”

The Rangers rattled off one more play than the Rebels in the first half, but racked up just 41 total yards of offense. Kolby Severson carried the ball nine times for 25 yards and Gabe Ridlon rushed for 30 yards on 11 carries, but negative plays haulted C-I’s momentum.

“They took it to us all night on both sides of the ball,” Syrstad said. “We couldn’t establish the run. We couldn’t stop the run. Hats off to them, they were ready to play and we weren’t.”

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The Rebels opened the second half with a six-play, 65-play drive capped off by a Kaden Robbins 30-yard run. Robbins finished with 80 rushing yards on just eight carries and the Rebels accumulated 295 rushing yards and 342 yards of offense for the game.

Defensively, MLWR held CI to just 123 yards on 56 plays.

“Against a great team like Crosby, they have a big, physical offensive and defensive line, and we told our kids that was the key was controlling the line of scrimmage,” Louzek said. “We had a really tough game with them earlier in the season. It was 12-6 a really close ball game. We needed to be more physical than them and our defense played really well, too.”

C-I’s best drive was its last. It took 10 plays and C-I got to the Rebels’ 18, but a holding penalty followed by a false start, two incomplete passes and an inception ended any hope C-I had of scoring.

“This group of seniors really set the tone movin forward for the younger guys,” Syrstad said. “Halfway through the season they coud have just cashed it in, but they didn’t. They just kept plugging away in practice and having fun. They showed our younger guys what it takes to win.”

Crosby-Ironton 0 0 0 0 -- 0

Moose Lake-Willow River 6 13 6 0 -- 25

MLWR - Jaxsyn Schmidt 12 run (kick failed) 11:03

MLWR - Schmidt 91 run (Sam Knezevich kick) 10:49

MLWR - Schmidt 1 run (kick failed) 4:47

MLWR - Kaden Robbins 30 run (kick failed) 9:27

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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