Prep football: Esko rallies to knock off Proctor

Esko's Trevor Spindler (5) catches a pass for a touchdown against Proctor's Austin Mooers (11) and Sage Henerderson (16) during Saturday's Section 7AAA semifinal in Esko. (Clint Austin /

ESKO — Esko football players and coaches have shed plenty of tears in the past couple weeks since quarterback Jackson Pfister’s death.

The tears flowing Saturday were ones of joy following a 14-point comeback in the Eskomos’ 28-21 victory over Proctor in a Section 7AAA semifinal at Esko Athletic Complex.

“It’s been tough but we know Jackson would want us to play for him, and that’s what we’re doing,” said senior Trevor Spindler, who scored one touchdown on offense and one on defense to spark the rally. “We’re coming out and winning for him. He wants us to win so he’s helping us out in every way he can. I know he’s here.”

Pfister, a backup quarterback, died shortly after collapsing on the field during an Oct. 11 game at Aitkin.

The top-seeded Eskomos (7-2) and second-seeded Gobblers (6-3), who edged Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin 22-20 in the other semifinal, will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at Malosky Stadium with a state tournament berth on the line.


Esko, an already tight-knit town, has strengthened that bond in recent weeks. Players wore decals with JP15 on their shoes or, like Spindler, put the number 15 on their face in eye black.

“I can’t say enough about our team and our community when it comes to that,” Esko coach Scott Arntson said. “I’m not articulate enough to have the right words for how proud I am of our community and our team.”

Down 14-0 midway through the second quarter, nothing seemed to be going Esko’s way. Players encouraged each other on the sideline to make a big play.

“We didn’t want senior year to end like this as the No. 1 seed,” Spindler said. “We were saying, ‘We can’t lose to these guys. We’ve beat them once, we can do it again.’ We held our heads high.”

Soon after Brock House hit Proctor quarterback Evan Checkalski as he was throwing on third-and-10 from midfield and Spindler, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound linebacker, plucked the ball out of midair and took it 49 yards for a touchdown.

“The ball just ended up falling in my hands, and I ended up running as fast I could and got in the end zone,” Spindler said.

On the next possession, after eight consecutive runs by Trevor Lindberg, the Rails decided to throw the ball into the wind on first down and Preston Lowe picked off Checkalski.

“That was a bad call on my part and we just didn’t execute it,” Proctor coach Derek Parendo said. “Looking back on it, you’d like to do something different but you can’t do that now.”


Esko needed only two plays to go 73 yards. Quarterback Dylan Vinje threw deep to Eli Blue for 51 yards on a play run earlier in the game in order to see how Proctor’s defense would respond.

Vinje scooted 22 yards around right end on the next play to tie the score at 14-14 at halftime.

Arntson didn’t fault Proctor for its play-calling gamble.

“I would do the same thing,” he said. “When something doesn’t go your way, you just can’t stop doing those things.”

The Rails (4-6) fumbled three plays into the second half and Esko capitalized again, this time on House’s 2-yard run for a seven-point lead.

Proctor later had a 9-yard punt into the stiff breeze and Esko scored in three plays, Vinje finding tight end Spindler in the deepest part of the end zone from 20 yards out.

“I knew the wind was coming so I got as deep as I could and Dylan put it right on the spot,” Spindler said.

Checkalski injured his hand and wide receiver Conner St. Germaine went under center to lead a 10-play, 72-yard drive that culminated with St. Germaine’s 23-yard scoring pass to Cole Johnson with 4:31 remaining.


Proctor recovered a fumble in the final three minutes but went backward as St. Germaine was sacked twice, including on fourth down to effectively end the game.

“(Moving St. Germaine to quarterback) added a spark and it worked for that one (drive) but we couldn’t get anything going the last time we had the ball,” Parendo said.

Proctor 14- 0-0-7—21
Esko 0-14 -14-0—28
P — Conner St. Germaine 65 punt return (Ben Harnell kick)
P — Nick Jauhola 4 pass from Evan Checkalski (Harnell kick)
E — Trevor Spindler 49 interception return (Avery Liljegren kick)
E — Dylan Vinje 22 run (Liljegren kick)
E — Brock House 2 run (Liljegren kick)
E — Spindler 20 pass from Vinje (Liljegren kick)
P — Cole Johnson 23 pass from St. Germaine (Harnell kick)

What To Read Next
Get Local