Prep football: Scrappy Rails eliminate Esko to reach section final

In a Section 7AAA semifinal Saturday at Terry Egerdahl Memorial Field, the Proctor football team evoked memories of Dennis Green's timeless rant. At this point in the season, with their brand of football that is more scrappy than stylistic, the R...

Proctor's Jerid Parrott carries the ball during the Rails' 17-6 win over Esko in Saturday's Section 7AAA semifinals at Terry Egerdahl Memorial Field. Clint Austin /

In a Section 7AAA semifinal Saturday at Terry Egerdahl Memorial Field, the Proctor football team evoked memories of Dennis Green’s timeless rant.

At this point in the season, with their brand of football that is more scrappy than stylistic, the Rails are who we thought they were.

And they’re headed to their fourth section final in five years thanks to a chippy 17-6 win over Esko on a charcoal-gray afternoon that must have featured more penalty yards than offensive yards.

This was a textbook Proctor victory. The top-seeded Rails (8-1) forced six turnovers, limited the Eskomos (2-8) to 169 yards and scored just enough points to march on.

“This is how we play,” Rails coach Derek Parendo said after a prolonged and sometimes-stern chat with his team. “It doesn’t look pretty, but we’re moving on to Thursday.”


Proctor, seeking its third state tournament berth since 2013, will oppose No. 2 Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin at 7 p.m. Thursday at Malosky Stadium. The Titans rallied past Two Harbors 38-33 in Saturday’s other semifinal.

Whether it was defensive tackle Kaleb Stevens bull-rushing his way into the Eskomos’ backfield all afternoon or cornerback Lucas Nordquist recording a pair of interceptions, the Rails made life miserable for fifth-seeded Esko. The visitors managed just 21 yards in the first quarter and 77 through two. They finished with 10 rushing yards on 19 carries.

Stevens, a junior, entered the contest with 72 tackles and seven sacks. He’s a 6-foot-2, 210-pound menace who is capable of overpowering offensive lineman or bursting past them.

Nordquist’s first interception came on Stone DeLeon’s fourth-and-goal pass just before the break. The junior’s second pick came inside the red zone with 3:02 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Proctor doesn’t bend often, but when it does, the Rails rarely break.

“Sometimes our offense doesn’t put up big numbers, so we have to be able to turn the ball over on defense,” Nordquist said.

DeLeon, a strong-armed senior, was under duress throughout. He completed 15 of 28 passes for 159 yards, but was intercepted three times - an indicator of the Rails’ team speed, which closes quickly on the ball.

“You’re not going to get them out of position, so there are going to be tight windows and you just have to make plays. They force that,” said Scott Arntson, who concluded his first season as Esko coach. “They’re not going to give anything up easy.”


Proctor took control in the second quarter. After John Aase’s second rushing touchdown of the season, the Rails recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and quarterback John Pioro capitalized by falling forward a yard to cap an abbreviated drive and make it 14-0.

Esko’s Reid Davidson returned a fumble 43 yards early in the third to give the Eskomos life. Davidson took advantage of an ill-advised option pitch to Proctor running back A.J. Maas, who struggled to corral the ball and, momentarily, trapped it against his helmet. But it popped free upon contact, and Davidson was the beneficiary.

Aase extended the eight-point lead via a 22-yard field goal four minutes into the fourth quarter.

Against this defense, that was a dagger.

And against this opponent, a frequent postseason foe, Parendo typically would be happy with simply winning. But the coach knows the rash of penalties, especially of the personal-foul variety, won’t fly against GNK on Thursday or, if the Rails advance, beyond that.

He implored his players at halftime to adjust to the officiating and keep their cool. Stevens, though, said that “didn’t really happen.” Hence the lengthy discussion afterward.

“We have to play more disciplined than that,” Parendo said. “The officials came out right away and called it tight, and we have to adjust to that.”

Jerid Parrott paced Proctor with 85 rushing yards on 19 carries.


  • Saturday’s game could very well have been the Rails’ last on this field, at least in its current state. The Proctor school board will vote in February on a resolution authorizing a special bond referendum that could earmark $10 million for an athletic facilities upgrade. The project would include installation of artificial turf at Egerdahl field, as well as replacement of the hockey arena.

  • At Proctor’s regular-season finale last week against Two Harbors, outgoing athletic director Rory Johnson was honored. Johnson has been the school’s AD for 11 years, though his ties to the program run much deeper than that. He was a longtime football assistant under icons Egerdahl and Dave Hylla, and coached boys basketball for 17 years. Johnson, who still teaches health, is a 1974 graduate of Duluth Denfeld.

Esko's Declan Sinnot-James tries to hang onto the ball amid pressure from Proctor's Brett Bower during the teams' Section 7AAA semifinal at Terry Egerdahl Memorial Field. Clint Austin /

What To Read Next
Get Local