Section 7AA: Late pass play seals come-from-behind win

When Joe Bonk's fourth-quarter touchdown was called back due to a penalty, it appeared as if Moose Lake-Willow River's jinx at Public Schools Stadium as well as Bonk's personal woes would continue.

When Joe Bonk's fourth-quarter touchdown was called back due to a penalty, it appeared as if Moose Lake-Willow River's jinx at Public Schools Stadium as well as Bonk's personal woes would continue.

But the senior running back, whose season was derailed by a stress fracture, was determined to end both curses, and his 28-yard touchdown reception with 16 seconds remaining Thursday night did just that.

Bonk ran under Joe Bednar's perfectly placed desperation pass to tie the game and Nate Zuk's extra point gave Moose Lake-Willow River a 13-12 win over Deer River in the Section 7AA championship game before a packed crowd at PSS.

"We don't run that play a whole lot,'' said Bednar, who only completed 3 of 5 passes for 11 yards before his final toss. "I was saying, 'You better catch it.'''

The come-from-behind victory sends the Rebels (10-1) to a Minnesota Class AA quarterfinal game against the winner of Section 5. While Moose Lake-Willow technically will host the game, the site will be determined later. Fifth-ranked Deer River ended its season at 10-1.


Bonk, the Rebels' leading returning rusher, missed six games with a stress fracture in his left ankle. That included a 15-0 loss to Deer River on Sept. 8, a game in which the Rebels netted just 40 total yards.

"He was pretty messed up for a while, but we knew he'd come back," Bednar said.

Bonk wasn't so sure.

"After that stress fracture, from week to week I said I would be back, but I started to panic a little bit,'' Bonk said. "It got to the point where I could run on it, and that's all I needed. It still hurts."

Bonk rushed for 115 yards and scored three touchdowns in his return, a 54-21 semifinal win over Greenway last week. He scored the team's first touchdown and gained a team-high 101 yards on 19 carries Thursday to give him 742 yards rushing this season.

"Having Joe Bonk back has been a huge catalyst for us; it's sparked our team," Rebels coach Dave Louzek said. "Joe is a go-to guy. You need tough yards outside, inside and we like him down there on the pass plays. That's what he brings to the table for us."

Still, Deer River controlled much of the game as senior Cody Kraskey rushed for 130 yards on 25 carries and a victory appeared certain when the Warriors stopped a fourth-down pass play to Bonk with 2:02 remaining. Earlier in the drive, Bonk walked through a big hole in the line to score from 15 yards out. But an illegal shift penalty nullified the tying touchdown and eventually left the Rebels without a timeout and much hope of getting the ball back.

That recalled eerily similar hard luck by the Rebels in their previous trips to section finals at PSS, including an improbable three-point loss to Esko in 2004 when the Rebels allowed 10 points in the final half-minute.


But perhaps it was time for some good luck.

"We knew our defense is tough and could shut them down,'' Bonk said. "Deer River is a heck of a team, but we were able to come out on top."

Deer River, which could have run the clock out or, at worst, taken a fourth-down safety, ran wide on first down and quarterback Dannyl Huju fumbled the ball out of bounds to stop the clock. Three plays later, the Warriors punted and the Rebels took over at the Warriors' 28 with 23.1 seconds left.

Moose Lake-Willow River ran out of its usual tight double-wing formation with no wide receivers, but Bonk released down the left side and got behind Barret Isaacs for the game-winner.

"The ball going out of play stopped the clock and was a bad break for Deer River,'' Louzek said. "We capitalized off it and made a big play. Finally, after a couple years of seeing those big plays go against us, it's nice to get a big play in our favor."

Deer River coach Steve Ott said miscommunication affected the coverage on the decisive play.

The loss marked the close of Ott's 22-year career at the Deer River helm. Ott, who is retiring as a teacher and coach, won 192 games and brought 10 teams to the state tournament.

"I'll probably remember this team for a long time since it's my last one,'' he said. "They're such hard-workers and a dedicated bunch of kids. It was a pleasure coaching these guys."


Moose Lake-Willow River 0 6 0 7--13

Deer River 0 6 6 0--12

MLWR - Joe Bonk 1 run (kick failed)

DR - Charles Huju 22 pass from Dannyl Huju (run failed)

DR - Jordan Kaczor 1 run (run failed)

MLWR - Bonk 28 pass from Joe Bednar (Nate Zuk kick)

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