Rebels set to tackle final goal

After years of close calls, Moose Lake-Willow River finally reached the Prep Bowl in 2009. But a 33-22 loss to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown in the Class AA title game kept the Rebels from achieving the ultimate success. Now the Rebels are after ...

Moose Lake-Willow River football
Moose Lake-Willow River lineman Nathan Vargas is part of a returning core of players that were Class AA runners-up last season. The Rebels think the pieces are in place another run at a state championship. (2009 file / News Tribune)

After years of close calls, Moose Lake-Willow River finally reached the Prep Bowl in 2009. But a 33-22 loss to

Waterville-Elysian-Morristown in the Class AA title game kept the Rebels from achieving the ultimate success.

Now the Rebels are after the one goal they have yet to attain: a state championship.

"That's our program goal," coach Dave Louzek said. "Because we've achieved so many other things from section titles and conference titles and playing games in the Metrodome and other great stadiums like the Fargodome, the ultimate goal now is to win that final game and be state champions."

The running game -- long the Rebels' bread and butter -- could be hampered by the loss of Michael Unzen (1,733 yards, 23 touchdowns) and Austin Jacobson (1,564 yards, 23 TDs), but senior guard Austin Lanoue anchors an experienced offensive line that annually dominates the line of scrimmage. Seniors Nathan Vargas, Ross Degerstrom and Tyler Huso also return to the offensive and defensive lines.


"That's more than we've had in a long time coming back on the offensive line," Louzek said.

Chris Gassert and Holden Olson take over the wingback positions with lineman Cody Schmidt shifting to fullback.

Esko, uncharacteristically, has slipped to sub-.500 records the past two seasons. The Eskomos boast a roster of nearly 70 in grades 9-12, so depth shouldn't be a problem, though most of the numbers are in the younger grades.

Returnees include seniors Jacob Anderson at halfback, fullback Jesse Lonetto, wide receivers Dain Brademan and Ryan Guthrie, offensive linemen Tyler Thibert and Tyler Gregg and junior quarterback Max Reinertsen.

Moose Lake-Willow River stands in the way in the Great Polar Alliance and the section.

"This team has the potential of doing something in the conference," coach Bill Hudspith said. "We're going to have to rely on some of the sophomores stepping up and obviously stay away from injuries. Based on numbers, the next few years should be very good."

Duluth Marshall not only ended a 14-game losing streak, it won three of its final four regular-season games last season and rushed for 390-plus yards in those victories. That momentum has motivated the returnees, coach Dave Homstad says, especially in the weight room.

"This is the first time in a long time that I've had an offensive line where everyone weighed more than 200 pounds," Homstad said.


Though only 34 players came out for the team, those are better numbers than in previous seasons. Returning seniors include quarterback Dave Grannis, halfback Joe Rechtenwald, fullback Ike Serre, wideout Thomas Gallegos and lineman Connor Thompson. Juniors Kevin Thorson, Peter Vatalaro and Sam Nord and sophomore Than Serre make up a young, but experienced, offensive line.

Section 7a

Repeat champs seek another title

East Central returns 15 seniors from a team that went 10-1 and reached the state tournament for the first time since a Sandstone-Finlayson combination qualified in 1982.

Chisholm, with 12 seniors, including some who were on the 2008 section champions, might be the top rival to the crown.

Barnum returns a solid nucleus of six seniors on each side of the ball. Returning starters include tight end-defensive end Justin Newman, running back-linebacker Josh Hogan, defensive back Hector Chavez and lineman Andrew Youngren -- all seniors -- and junior quarterback-defensive back Bobby Minkkinen, running back-linebacker Wyatt Frinifrock and lineman Lewis Eggen.

The Bombers are smallish, with the largest player checking in at 225 pounds, but should be fairly quick.

"If we can utilize our speed, we have the potential," coach Kevin Haley said. "We're not going to overpower anybody."


Dennis Korman played four years for famed coach John Gagliardi at St. John's in the 1960s and now the Cloquet-area attorney takes over at Carlton. The Bulldogs have eight seniors, including quarterback-defensive back Chase Jokinen and running back-linebacker Wyatt Goodman. Junior lineman Dakota Frear also returns, but depth could be a problem as only 17 players are listed on the varsity roster.

Changes abound at AlBrook-Cotton. Dan DuPay takes over for the retired Larry Anderson as head coach, while a half-dozen Cotton players join the first year of the cooperative. Cotton, which likely will close next spring, shut down its football program a year early due to declining numbers.

"The best thing is those kids still get to play football," DuPay said.

Quarterback Bryce Karppinen and senior lineman Brandon Johnson head up a list of nine seniors for the Falcons, who will play their normal nine-man regular-season schedule but move up to Section 5A for the playoffs. But without Cody Anderson (2,563 yards passing, 33 TDs) slinging the ball to Kolten Karppinen (72 receptions, 1,067 yards, 15 TDs), a repeat of last year's success will be difficult.


Cromwell, Floodwood optimistic

Only five teams remain in Section 5 after AlBrook and Cotton merged programs and moved up a class, and Wrenshall dropped varsity football. Still, Cromwell, Floodwood and McGregor should be three of the better Nine-Man teams in the state.

"There aren't a lot of teams in our section, but they are all good teams," Cromwell coach Jeff Gronner said.


Defending champion Cromwell returns 12 seniors, the most during Gronner's tenure. The Cardinals possess a lot of depth, especially on the offensive line. Four returning seniors play offense and defense: quarterback-defensive back Jordan Suhonen, running back-linebacker Mike Hedin and linemen Tyler Sulkowski and Greg Purcell.

Gronner says the key to the season is if a backfield lacking depth stays healthy.

Floodwood returns eight starters on each side of the ball and hopes to again play in the section final, where the Polar Bears lost to the Cardinals a year ago. The school never has advanced to the state tournament but optimism reigns with seniors Zach Heggedahl (quarterback-safety), Grant Hutchinson (running back-safety), Alex Taray (running back-linebacker) and linemen Jacob Bernsdorf, Caine Davis and Dustin Kasbohm back in the starting lineup.

The Great Northern Conference should be decided during a three-week period in October when Cromwell, Floodwood and McGregor all play each other.

Orr tries to defend the Section 7 title in what could be the final year before the Braves combine with Cook at a centrally located high school. Mountain Iron-Buhl, which lost to Orr in overtime during the playoffs, is another hopeful.

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