ESKO — The scoreboard read 33-0 as the Eskomos took a knee to end Wednesday night's contest against Crosby-Ironton.
But the football game was won long before it started as far as Esko quarterbacks coach Tony deLeon is concerned.
"It was won before just by the guys stepping out there and deciding they were going to play," deLeon said. "They had already won the game. The outcome didn't mean anything to us ."
The team and community rallied behind 15-year-old Jackson Pfister, a sophomore who collapsed and died just five days earlier during a game at Aitkin. Fans packed the stands, sporting tribute T-shirts and waving mini flags with Jackson's name and No. 15.
"Tonight was about Jackson," senior center Lincoln Severson said after the game. "Everyone on the team knew that. Everyone played their hearts out for him. All of us loved him and we wanted to win this game for him."
Jackson, a backup quarterback, collapsed after entering late in the varsity football game in Aitkin Friday night. He was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. A preliminary report from the medical examiner indicated he died from congenital heart disease, a condition he had since birth.
Coaches and teammates fondly recalled Jackson as a fierce competitor and young leader in the Esko locker room. Having a chance to put aside the outside distractions and attention over the past several days, they said they found peace in getting back into game action.
"Us seniors and the team as a whole, we just worked as hard as we could this week under the circumstances," said wide receiver Dylan Vinje. "We just wanted to come out and play as hard as we could."
The coaching staff said there was some discussion of canceling the game but the consensus was to finish out the regular season as scheduled, even with the shorter-than-usual break between games.
"Jackson himself would've wanted us to play," said head coach Scott Arntson. "He wouldn't have wanted our season to end because of him. He was a competitor. He would've only wanted the best for us, and I think that as much as anything is a big part of why (the players) decided to keep going."
Jackson, who would've turned 16 this coming Saturday, also played baseball and hockey and was active in other school and church activities, according to his obituary. He was survived by his parents, a brother and many extended family members in the region.
"Jackson had an unwavering faith and was blessed with many gifts," the obituary reads. "He will forever be remembered for his kind, compassionate heart, humble leadership and gentle spirit. Jack had a determination and passion for life. He enjoyed both watching and participating in athletics. He was a fierce competitor and loved to study the game."