ESKO — A couple gentlemen were joking before the Section 7AA football championship game Thursday, Oct. 31, about Moose Lake-Willow River quarterback Mason Olson throwing for a school record 1,200 yards this season.
“That’s 1,200 more than the previous record,” one guy said.
Yes, the Rebels aren’t exactly known for chucking the ball around, but they are certainly known for winning, as evidenced by their 36-8 Halloween victory over Mesabi East.
MLWR (8-2) was strong in all areas, with junior running back Blake Juhl carrying 22 times for 165 yards and two scores and Olson, the junior quarterback, hitting 8-of-18 throws for 160 yards and another score.
The Rebels advanced to play the Section 5 champion (Paynesville or Eden Valley-Watkins) in the Class AA quarterfinals Nov. 8 in North Branch, Minn. It will be their 14th state tournament appearance in MLWR head coach Dave Louzek’s 21 seasons, including three straight and 13 of the past 14 seasons.
“This never gets old. It really doesn’t,” Louzek said.
While there weren't many costumes to be seen — it was cold — Halloween candy wrappers were sprinkled throughout the bleachers afterward. Something that is scary for next year is the fact MLWR only has three senior starters, and another thing that could be scary is the Rebels' passing offense should they win next week and move onto the semifinals in cozy U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
“We talked about that, but we don’t want to look past anybody” Louzek said. “But certainly, that should give us added motivation for next week. I think to be a good coach you have to adjust to the players you have, and we’ve done that this year. We’ve got a lot of good athletes, and we’re taking advantage of that.”
Juhl is the proverbial workhorse back who doesn’t mind giving up some carries for some heaves downfield. He said the Rebels’ offense can be “very deadly.”
“That’s where I get a lot of my big carries, when they’re worried about us passing,” he said. “The defense has to pick one or the other: pass or stack the box.”
Senior Cole Myer rushed 12 times for 72 yards and junior running back Gavin Skelton had a 58-yard touchdown toss to Cole Swanson to lead sixth-seeded Mesabi East (4-7), which has a lot to build on after playing only six seniors this year and making a surprising playoff run.
“We knew we were going to have to give it our best today (to have a chance),” Mesabi East coach Steve Grams said. “Our offense didn’t really play a full game, and against a team like that you have to play four quarters. But we’re so proud of these guys. To go from getting our butts handed to us against Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin (56-16 on Oct. 16), we could have folded. It could have been the end of our season, but we got here and gave a valiant effort.”