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Prep football playoffs: Turner propels Esko into Section 7AAA final

Sidelined for the final two games of the regular season because of illness and a concussion, Esko running back Jaxson Turner returned to the field Saturday for the Section 7AAA semifinals.

Cole Litsey
Cole Litsey of Esko pushes off Jack Burt (24) of Duluth Marshall while rushing the ball during a Section 7AAA semifinal game in Esko on Saturday afternoon. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Sidelined for the final two games of the regular season because of illness and a concussion, Esko running back Jaxson Turner returned to the field Saturday for the Section 7AAA semifinals.
Duluth Marshall paid the price.
Turner, whose effortless, ball-waving style belies his potency, propelled the host Eskomos to a 35-12 victory by running for four first-half touchdowns on a blustery fall afternoon. The junior finished with 160 rushing yards on 19 carries as Esko (7-2) clinched a spot in its third consecutive section final.
Turner, even more so than his teammates who had been off for 10 days, was champing at the bit Saturday. He last played in a narrow victory over Proctor on Oct. 3.
“It was nice to have a little break and have fresh legs coming out here today,” Turner said.
It was a different story for Marshall (4-6).
The Hilltoppers entered the semifinal with their backs already butting up against the wall. Just four days earlier, they traveled to Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, where they were victorious 64-62 in a six-overtime instant classic that didn’t end until about 10:20 p.m.
But it took its toll, especially for a depleted team that dressed just 21 players Saturday. Because of the small roster, many of the Hilltoppers were forced to play on both sides of the ball. After Tuesday’s marathon, they simply ran out of gas.
“It kind of wore us down, there’s no doubt about it,” Marshall coach Jim Hogan said. “Short week after a long game, but it all comes down to Esko was stronger than us at the line of scrimmage and there’s just nothing you can do about that.”
While the Eskomos showed fleeting signs of rust - penalties being the chief culprit - they had too much firepower for the Hilltoppers.
A sequence early in the second quarter underscored the explosiveness of Esko’s offense. After recovering a fumble at the Marshall 22-yard line, the Eskomos were flagged for back-to-back false-start penalties before recovering their own fumble for another 5-yard loss. But a pair of on-the-money passes from Nick Emanuel and two Turner runs, including his third TD, negated the gaffes as Esko built a 21-7 lead.
Turner’s fourth score, a 47-yarder, made it 27-6 at the half.
“He’s dangerous when he gets the ball, either inside, outside or catching it,” Esko coach Bill Hudspith said.
Turner has a habit of waving the football out wide, away from his body, when running with it. The style makes it easier for defenders to swat it free - if they can catch up to him.
“We give him a hard time about that,” Aaron Olson, a receiver for the Eskomos, said. “Coaches hate that.”
Jeremy Stephan rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown to pace the Hilltoppers. Stephan, one of the area’s most underrated players, also returned a fumble 79 yards for a TD.
But it wasn’t enough for Marshall.
“My hat’s off to Esko,” Hogan said. “Our kids battled, and they have been all year long.”
The top-seeded Eskomos play No. 2 Two Harbors, a 20-12 winner over Proctor, on Thursday at Malosky Stadium. Esko beat the Agates 36-14 on Sept. 26.
That game won’t mean much come Thursday.
“We wipe the slate clean and play them like they’re a new team,” Olson said.

Duluth Marshall    6-0-0-6-12

Esko    7-20-8-0-35

E - Jaxson Turner 10 run (Ryan Bodie kick)
DM - Jeremy Stephan 30 run (kick failed)
E - Turner 47 run (Bodie kick)
E - Turner 2 run (Bodie kick)
E - Turner 24 run (kick blocked)
E - Cole Litsey 36 run (Jack Kuhlman pass from Nick Emanuel)
DM - Stephan 79 fumble return (pass failed)

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Jaxson Turner
Jaxson Turner of Esko rushes the ball against Duluth Marshall during a Section 7AAA semifinal game in Esko on Saturday afternoon. Esko won 35-12. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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