PREP FOOTBALL: Missed opportunity
MINNEAPOLIS -- In a game of miscues, turnovers and penalties, Jackson County Central's football season came to an end Thursday in the Class AA state semifinals.
Two rushing touchdowns and a game-high 182 ground yards for the Huskies' Darrick Vancura was not enough as Moose Lake/Willow River posted a 27-20 victory at The Metrodome.
"Both teams made mistakes," Rebels coach Dave Louzek said. "We made some mistakes early with some fumbles and turnovers. Early-on, it turned into a game of mistakes. The key was that our kids never gave up. We would make a mistake, Jackson County Central came down and scored, but then our kids battled back and kept control of the game."
Michael Pender ran for 88 yards, including touchdowns of 10 and 2 yards, on 24 carries and Jake Disterhaupt added 109 yards, including a 28-yard end zone run, on 20 carries to spark the ML/WR ground attack.
Despite the loss, Huskies coach Tom Schuller was proud of his players.
"I am really pleased with our effort because we gave it our best," Schuller said. "When it's your best effort, my battle cry is that you can't say anything if you don't get it done. We had a chance to win the ballgame, but I'm still really proud of these kids."
Jackson County Central was penalized six times for 65 yards, fumbled twice and lost one. Moose Lake/Willow River was penalized five times for 43 yards, fumbled three times and lost one.
Schuller noted the loss of tight-end Zach Copley to a season-ending leg injury limited some the Huskies' play calling.
"We lost a huge weapon for us when Zach Copley was injured a couple of games ago," Schuller said. "I tip my hat to the guys who played for him, but Zach was a huge part of our veer-game blocking and the play-action passes that come off of it."
The Rebels advanced to the MSHSL Class AA State Tournament championship game, where they will play Caledonia at 1 p.m. Friday in Minneapolis. The Warriors moved into the title contest after preserving a 26-24 victory against BOLD in the first semifinal game Thursday.
JCC cashed in on the first big mistakeof the game. The Huskies had a first down at the Moose Lake/Willow River 31 after Ryan Brighton recovered Ben Moonen's mishandled punting attempt.
Four plays and 97 seconds later, Spencer Johnson ran into the end zone from 2 yards out with 7:35 left in the first quarter. Taylor Christopher's extra-point kick handed Jackson County Central a 7-0 lead.
Less than 3 minutes later, Pender provided an answer for the Rebels. His TD run from 10 yards out at the 4:40 mark was set up by a personal foul penalty that put the ball on the JCC 15.
The Huskies were handed a golden opportunity in the second quarter, when Moonen botched another punting attempt. He recovered his own fumble on the ML/WR 44 after dropping the snap and falling on it.
But the Jackson County Central offense only moved the ball six yards before punting and giving it back to the Rebels.
Pender capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 10:44 left before halftime. The ML/WR drive included a 39-yard pass play to Disterhaupt from quarterback Tony Adamczak, who efficiently completed 6-of-8 passes for 89 yards in the game. It set up the Rebels on the JCC 8-yard-line.
Moonen's nightmarish game continued when Vancura blocked his PAT attempt, giving Moose Lake/Willow River a 13-7 lead.
In contrast, Jackson County Central quarterback Tanner Menke struggled with a 6-of-17 passing effort for 45 yards.
"We really concentrated on taking away their passing," Louzek said. "If you look at the stats that Jackson County Central has put up this year, they are a very balanced team with a great quarterback and great receivers. But we think we have some pretty good athletes at cornerback and at safety. We challenged our kids to step up and challenge (the Huskies)."
Schuller said the Rebels were able to disrupt the Huskies' passing attack with speedy defenders.
"There's a lot of things you can do when you have guys who can run 4.5 or 4.6 (seconds) in the 40," Schuller said. "They were just popping out of the woodwork."
Both teams scored quickly during the final 6½ minutes of the first half.
The Huskies rallied with a 10-play, 82-yard possession that resulted in a 5-yard TD run by Vancura, who tied the game at 13 a little more than 4 minutes later. But JCC could not take a one-point lead because Christopher's extra-point kick was blocked at the 6:13 mark.
"(Moose Lake/Willow River) made us even more one-dimensional and Darrick still produced with the offensive line," Schuller said. "He's not the fastest runner, but he's just really difficult to tackle."
Only 56 seconds later, ML/WR grabbed a 20-13 advantage, which it took into halftime.
Disterhaupt returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards before the Huskies were hit with a 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds. The result was a Rebels' first down at the Jackson County Central 30 and, three plays later, Disterhaupt won a 28-yard race to the end zone.
Each team scored on its first possession in the fourth quarter.
Moose Lake/Willow River went ahead 27-13 on Mike Gassert's 4-yard touchdown run, which finished off the Rebels' 11-play, 66-yard drive with 7½ minutes left.
Vancura led the Huskies back into the game 99 seconds later. His 30-yard touchdown run ended a six-play, 59-yard possession that cut the ML/WR lead to seven.
But JCC could not get the tying score.
"They're a great football team," Louzek said of the Huskies. "They're a physical team that had a lot of fight in them and they didn't give up, either. They definitely are one of the top four teams in Minnesota."
DG Sports Editor Jeff Arenz may be reached at 376-7328.
MSHSL CLASS AA FOOTBALL STATE TOURNAMENT
At The Metrodome, Minneapolis
MOOSE LAKE/WILLOW RIVER 27, JACKSON COUNTY CENTRAL 20
Moose Lake/Willow River 7 13 0 7 -- 27
Jackson County Central 7 6 0 7 -- 20
JCC -- Johnson 2 run (T. Christopher kick), 7:35.
ML/WR -- Pender 10 run (Moonen kick), 4:40.
ML/WR -- Pender 2 run (kick blocked), 10:44.
JCC -- Vancura 5 run (kick blocked), 6:13.
ML/WR -- Disterhaupt 28 run (Moonen kick), 5:17.
ML/WR -- Gassert 4 run (Moonen kick), 7:37.
JCC -- Vancura 30 run (T. Christopher), 5:58.
First Downs 21 14
Total Net Yards 344 277
Rushes-Yards 68-252 34-232
Passing Yards 89 45
Punt Returns 1-6 1-21
Kick Returns 3-74 5-70
Interception Returns 0-0 0-0
Cmp-Att-Int 6-8-0 6-17-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 0-0 0-0
Punts 1-43.0 3-36.7
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 2-1
Penalties-Yards 5-43 6-65
Time of Possession 28:55 19:05
RUSHING: Moose Lake/Willow River (Disterhaupt 20-109, Pender 24-88, Young 10-61, Gassert 10-42, TEAM 2-0, Moonen 2-(-43)); Jackson County Central (Vancura 23-182, Menke 8-49, Johnson 1-2, Moore 1-2, Taylor-Breck 1-2).
PASSING: Moose Lake/Willow River (Adamczak 6-8-89, Disterhaupt 0-0-0) Jackson County Central (Menke 6-17-45).
RECEIVING: Moose Lake/Willow River (Disterhaupt 5-68, Coil 1-21); Jackson County Central (Wacker 4-39, Beeck 1-5, T. Christopher 1-1).