Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Al Rose
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Rebels blaze by Royals to take away title


November 9, 2017

Al Rose

Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels senior co-captains Ethan Tomczak (No. 50), Ian Coil (No. 5) and Dilon Louzek (No. 68) celebrate winning the Section 7AA championship November 2 against the Royalton Royals.

The 5-5 third-seeded red-hot Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels made it four wins in a row in front of blaze-orange clad fans to take the title away from the 2016 defending champion 8-1 and top-seeded Royalton Royals. The Rebels took care of business on both sides of the ball to earn a 29-15 victory in the Section 7AA championship game played in Esko on Thursday, November 2.

The Rebels proved it is the playoffs that matter as they shook off four consecutive losses near the end of the 2017 regular season to advance to a Class AA State Tournament quarterfinal game at Brainerd on Friday, November 10, at 7 p.m.

MLWR, now at 6-5, will play 7-4 West Central Area who it is said have used a spread-five shotgun offense with success. The Rebels arguably have the best pass rush and pass defense since the days of Jon Pietz's 10.5 sacks in 2006 and Austin Lanoue's 10 sacks in 2010 and Dan Anderson's 12 interceptions in 2007 and Joe Bohaty's seven picks in 2008.

Head coach Dave Louzek gave his team a pep-talk prior to the bout against Royalton. "Any team that sets its goal to win a state championship doesn't know what they're talking about," Louzek stated. "We set one of our performance goals to win a section championship. You will get medals. You can join the 11 teams that have received blue ribbons and medals or you can join the two teams that got red ribbons and medals. Play with championship speed. Play with championship physicality. Play with championship mentality. Play four quarters of championship football. That's what gets you to the state tournament. That's what gives you the opportunity to play for a state championship."

The Rebels, with 10 first downs as compared to 15 first downs for Royalton, made the most of their possessions. The Royals, suffering five lost possessions, were snake-bitten right from the start by turnovers, including MLWR taking advantage of a first-possession fumble and turning it into the Rebels' first TD. By the end of the game, MLWR had also capitalized and cashed in on two out of four pass interceptions to finish at 3-for-5 on converting turnovers into scores.

Very much on the positive side of things, the Rebels had their lowest number of penalties and yards moved backwards of the season with only five penalties for 40 yards. The Rebels had only one holding penalty, although it did interfere with a potential scoring drive. MLWR's one personal foul negated a very nice cut-back and long punt return by Jeremiah Weidendorf. The Rebels had only one three-and-out and just one failed fourth-down attempt. As situations dictated, MLWR played smart field-position football throughout the game to keep flipping the field with five successive punts by Ian Coil of 26, 29, 41, 48 and 36 yards (36-yard average).

Had it not been for five turnovers, an inability to convert on fourth down and its ineffective passing, Royalton would not have looked awful at first glance on paper. Their star running back ran for a game-high 192 yards. The Royals had five more first downs, no three-and-outs, just three penalties for 30 yards with one hold interfering with a drive, only two punts for 35 yards each and they turned MLWR's only fumble into their first TD. But on the darker side of things, Royalton failed on both of its fourth-down attempts. Passing was a dismal 6-for-18 for only 69 yards, including just two first downs, a 29-yard TD and a two-point conversion. Four interceptions were a very costly bane for the Royals, with MLWR turning two of the picks into points.

Offensively, for the second game in a row, converting fourth-down situations was a boon for MLWR as the Rebels again had success sustaining drives. The Rebels went 4-for-5 on fourth-down conversions, including twice on fourth-and-a foot. Two of those efforts were good for touchdowns and two of the efforts led to touchdowns.

Coil ended up going 5-for-8 for 84 yards, including a 12-yard first-down throw and a 55-yarder to tight end Ryan Barrett to set up a score and a two-point toss to Barrett. Colton Little had a 12-yard catch and a three-yard catch.

Anakin Oswald, with his second game in a row with three touchdowns, had a fourth-down six-yard TD run in the first quarter to finish a seven-play 31-play drive as MLWR converted the Royals' first-possession fumble that was recovered by senior safety Thomas Gulso. Oswald was denied on the two-point try for 6-0 at 8:35.

An attempted bomb to Zach Gottwalt was way short and Weidendorf got his first pass interception to start the second quarter. Little converted on fourth-and-a foot and it led to Oswald getting a fourth-and-a foot TD to conclude an 18-play 80-yard drive. Coil and Barrett had no problem connecting on a pass to the right side for 14-0 at 4:51.

The Royals used two plays to convert MLWR's only fumble. Big 235-pound senior bulldozer Riley Smieja, who came into the game with 1,163 yards (129 average per game), used his low center of gravity and gritty head-down running style to carry tacklers for one of his long first downs. Junior QB Gavin Suska fired a rocket on stride to senior running back Cole Schofield, who had split the middle seam, for a 29-yard TD. Junior kicker Mark Limburger added the PAT for 14-7 at 2:02.

Trent Juhl, the Rebels' leading ground-gainer, was somewhat contained by the Royals. The junior 190-pounder, who came into the contest with successive games of 140, 161 and 185 yards rushing, led MLWR with 58 yards. Juhl would get a TD. Coil launched a perfect third-down, over-the-shoulder 55-yard bomb to Barrett with Suska saving a TD at the 13-yard line. With the Rebels in the hurry-up, Oswald picked up a first down on third down. Juhl capped off the very well orchestrated eight-play, 72-yard drive with a two-yard TD that was a back-breaker for the Royals. Oswald tacked on a bruising two-point middle run for 22-7, Rebels, with just 21 ticks remaining before halftime. Weidendorf's second pass pick came on an attempted hook-and-ladder gadget play by Royalton right before the break.

Despite Gulso's first pass interception on the Royals' first possession of the second half, the third quarter was scoreless. Each team was impacted by a hold and each team turned it over once on downs.

MLWR's final fourth-down conversion came after Gulso's second pass interception with a good return to the 12-yard line. It was one last fourth-and-a foot as Juhl earned a new set of downs inside the one-yard line. Oswald plowed in behind a huge push by the middle line with Logan Peterson leading the way for his third TD. Danny Lilya and Carter Johnson finally got to show off their place holding and kicking skills for 29-7 at 8:57.

The Rebels' defense soon put an exclamation point on the game. Barrett, Oswald and Peterson stepped up to the challenge of stopping Smieja for second-and-two at the two-yard line. MLWR's middle line and Oswald combined to stand up and shove back Suska on a QB sneak. The fired-up Rebels middle responded again to stuff Smieja on fourth-and-a foot to goal to keep it 29-7 with less than three minutes to play.

Al Rose

A happy group of Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels gather for a photo with their Section 7AA championship trophy following the 29-15 win over the Royalton Royals in Esko November 2.

MLWR's defensive stand-outs beyond Gulso's fumble recovery and two pass picks and Weidendorf's two pass picks included, but were not limited to the following: Peterson, Dilon Louzek, Aidan Szczyrbak, Adam Dragicevich, Barrett, Oswald, Juhl, Weidendorf, Avery Kosloski and Dakota Fredrick.

Smieja was able to close out his senior season with a TD as he showed some agility with a quick jump-cut and nifty spin for a one-yard TD. The Royals used a razzle-dazzle trick play for the two-point conversion. Running back Schofield took a pitch and ran left and threw back across the grain to QB Suska by the right pylon for 29-15 with 48 seconds left to play.

Coil received the kick with a knee and took a couple more knees. Senior co-captain and lineman Ethan Tomczak got the honor of leading Bo Moffett in front of the blaze-orange fan club for a Section 7AA championship victory run.


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