The Moose Lake-Willow River football team struck fast and ground it out in the familiar old-fashioned Rebel way to defeat the fifth-ranked Hawley Nuggets by a score of 35-22 in a quarterfinal game played on Friday, November 9 at Husky Stadium at St. Cloud State University.
The Rebels amassed 385 yards on the ground with Michael Pender leading the charge with 188 yards on 26 carries (7.23 per carry), including ML-WR’s first quick scores on runs of three yards to rocket the Rebels to a 14-0 lead as Ben Moonen missed the first kick, but Jake Disterhaupt went left and held the ball just inside the pylon to get the two point conversion.
After an excellent line drive on-side that Rebel Jeremiah Chavez recovered, it was Pender again from three yards out with Disterhaupt on his two point reach for 14-0 with 1:55 still remaining in the first frame for a stunning 14-0 as Hawley hardly seemed to know what hit them.
Disterhaupt, who would end the game with all three of the Rebels’ next scores, ran for two TDs and caught a 10-yard perfect pass from Tony Adamczak in the right corner for another, racked up 125 yards on 24 carries (5.21 per carry). Disterhaupt popped free for a TD run of 26 yards in the second quarter and had a 15-yard jaunt following a long sprint by Michael Gassert to set up that score. The 10-yard TD toss from Adamczak capped off Moose Lake-Willow River’s scoring. Moonen, after missing the first kick, was true on his last three boots.
Rebel Brett Hawkins played a whale of game. Hawkins was in on about a dozen tackles and he had a pass interception. Also standing out on defense was Pender. Captain Jake Christopherson anchored the middle line. It was Pender who made a pass interception late in the fourth frame to virtually salt the game away.
The 12-0 Rebels advance to play 10-2 Jackson County Central in a Thursday, November 15 match-up at the Metrodome to see who gets the coveted berth to play in the Prep Bowl with a State Championship on the line. Moose Lake-Willow River has not been shy in letting people know they are hoping for a rematch with Caledonia as a measure of their abilities, which for now do seem quite impressive with trick left in the bag. But be it a grind it out game, the Rebels will be hungry for the football feast the day after Thanksgiving.
Prior to the game, longtime Rebels Assistant Coach James Bohaty was recognized during the ceremonial coin toss for his years of service to Moose Lake-Willow River football. Hawley won the toss and elected to kick to the Rebels.
Disterhaupt returned the opening kick from right to left and almost made the corner to the 34. Gassert went left for a couple. A pitch left to Pender came up short by a about a yard and ML-WR elected to punt. Moonen’s punt got one good hop and one backward bounce.
The Nuggets went three and out with their punt from the 32 taking a long roll to the Rebels 33 at 8:23. Disterhaupt went middle right for nine. A pitch to Pender went around the right to the 30 at 7:45. Disterhaupt tried the left counter for six. A middle run by Pender was a first to the 18 at 7:28. A middle left to Disterhaupt made it second and three from the 11. A right pitch to Pender took it to the one, but a pitch to Disterhaupt was well-played by the Nuggets and a loss of two yards left at 6:00. Pender went left middle and went in standing behind a big block by Layne Johnson for 6-0 at 5:36. Moonen missed the kick.
A beauty of a line drive off the shins worked to perfection with Chavez coming up with the recovery on the trick kick. Pender hit the right side for four. Disterhaupt got a couple left. A pitch to Disterhaupt was a first at the 20 at 4:16. Pender went middle left for six. Gassert pounded the middle for three. On third-and-one Pender went left to the six for a first down at 2:50. Disterhaupt hit the middle to the three. It was Pender plowing the middle for the TD. On a run around the left side, Disterhaupt had the presence of mind to switch the ball from his left arm to his right hand and to extent it inside the pylon and over the goal line for the two point conversion to make it 14-0 at 1:55 of the first quarter.
Hawley was able to extend a drive into the second frame that culminated with a great pass and catch down the left that Pender was unable to do much about. The Jordan Harms to Hunter Lawson pass-and-catch covered 36 yards and the PAT by Gary Althoff made it 14-7. The Nuggets seemed to be a bit revitalized with 9:19 on the clock.
Moose Lake-Willow River wasted little time answering. A squib kick was adeptly handled by Moonen. A Disterhaupt left run netted five and a middle charge by Pender behind his big line was a first. Gassert was gang tackled for second-and-six. Pender went weaving his way for a first all the way to the 26. Disterhaupt popped through the left side and was gone on a 26-yard dash for a TD and Moonen nailed the kick straight through for 21-7 at 7:20.
The Nuggets fought right back and with three first downs sustained a drive that ended with Chris Buttke taking it in from two yards out. Althoff hit his kick again and, at 21-14, it was definitely still anybody’s ball game with 3:09 until halftime.
Moose Lake-Willow River started a drive and got a first down, but was unable to keep it going and turned it over on downs at :45. Hawley wasted two improbable opportunities to go for a long run or pass with successive false starts, and back to the 29, time expired with ML-WR up by just a touchdown at 21-14.
The Rebels kicked off and Moonen and B.J. Young made hard hits. Hawkins was twice in on tackles to limit yardage. The Nuggets got a first at the 43 at 10:43. Hawkins and Cameron Schmidt thumped a run. The Nuggets tried a fake punt with a pass that became what appeared would be a successful tipped screen pass, but a hold brought it back and Hawley had to punt.
With the Rebels with good field position on the 48, at 9:05, Hawley called timeout. Pender hit the left side for 22 yards. A second left run went nowhere. On third and long Disterhaupt tried. Pender hit the middle and was short by a yard. Disterhaupt literally high jumped the pile and flipped for a first over the center hogs. Pender hit the middle to the 15. An out-pass to Disterhaupt was nothing. From 15 yards out, Disterhaupt made a wiggle move left and cut inside to scoot for a 15-yard TD. Moonen hit the PAT for 28-14 at 5:52.
Hawley was sustaining good drive four first downs, but a fumble ruined it and Young came up with the fumble recovery for a huge on the eight at 2:15.
Pender went right for four. It was Gassert breaking free and rambling for long yardage to the 40, plus he had been yanked down by a reach-around facemask and the penalty was tacked on. Disterhaupt ran a counter for six and followed with an up-the-middle smash-mouth run to the 13. Disterhaupt went to the 10, but a second down run went nowhere. Adamczak lofted a pretty little pass and Disterhaupt got in front of his man to make it look easy for the TD. Moonen was again good. ML-WR was riding a much more solid 35-14 lead with 11:21 left to play in the fourth frame.
Still, Hawley was not done. Even after Hawkins intercepted a pass for their second turnover of the game, excluding the line drive trick kick, the Nuggets had something left.
Disterhaupt looked like he might have a real back-breaker on a long run down the left side, but it was brought back on the Rebels’ first and only holding flag back to the 25 at 10:35. A couple of middle runs and a counter netted little and ML-WR punted. On the coverage, Jon Evenson made a wise decision downfield not to sling the receiver out of bounds to avoid what would have been a personal foul, plus an illegal block had been called on the Nuggets. ML-WR took one interference call to the 50. It took a bomb by Harms to Ben Ellefson to put the Nuggets on the board. The big pass-and-catch was followed by a two-point on the left side from Harms to Alex Ames for 35-22 at 3:37.
The Rebels were able to eat some clock with a first down by Gassert and worked it all the way to the one for much more time gone. Disterhaupt was stopped at the one for fourth-and-one. Of course, the Rebels went for the TD, but they were said to be assisting the runner and the call appeared to be correct. With the runner having ended up in the end zone, it was a touchback by rule and the Nuggets would have only 1:38 to try to put up two quick scores.
One run by Harms was for 14 with ML-WR in a prevent defense. The prevent worked as Pender stepped in front of a desperation pass for the Rebels’ second interception and Hawley’s third turnover. At 1:06 of the victory formation and a couple of knees.
Moose Lake-Willow River, at 12-0, would be advancing — hopefully to get past 10-2 Jackson County Central at the Dome on Thursday, November 15 at 2 p.m. — and if all goes as planned, to get their season-long wait to get the grudge match with the undefeated and top-ranked Section 1 champs, the Caledonia Warriors, who have twice defeated the Rebels in Pre Bowl championship bouts.
After the game, Head Coach Dave Louzek gathered his troops. “Look at the scoreboard,” he said. “You put up those points; that was with mistakes. You do that and play that perfect game, nobody will be able to touch you guys.” On the way out, finally exiting the stadium, the beloved Louzek stopped by a few fans leaning over to congratulate him. “Thanks,” he said. “That’s you people. Thanks.”