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Minnesota state football: Close-knit Rebels lose in quarterfinals

NEW PRAGUE -- Even in defeat, the Murray County Central Rebels are a family. They lost to Rushford-Peterson 44-21 in the Class A state quarterfinal at Trojan Stadium in New Prague, but the loss didn't come between the bonds of teammates. Tears st...

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Adam Watts / Daily Globe Rebels head coach Patrick Freeman comforts senior quarterback Brady Kremer and receiver Cole Bassett after MCC's 44-21 loss in the Class A state football quarterfinal on Friday.

NEW PRAGUE -- Even in defeat, the Murray County Central Rebels are a family.

They lost to Rushford-Peterson 44-21 in the Class A state quarterfinal at Trojan Stadium in New Prague, but the loss didn’t come between the bonds of teammates.

Tears streaked down the faces of rough and tumble football players, realizing that this was it for the 2016 season. One-by-one the players hugged each other. Hug after hug after hug. And after the final hugs were given, they huddled up and as a unit yelled, “Family!”

“We are a family,” MCC head coach Patrick Freeman said. “We are a tight group. You could see it in everyone’s face at the end. They have that passion for each other. That’s fun as a coach to have a group that is so tight that it wants to battle for each other. They’ll do anything for them.”

The Rebels put up a fight in the first half, taking a 14-12 lead into the break. They contained dynamic R-P running back Noah Carlson on defense, and sustained drives on offense. But a few costly second-half mistakes came back to bite them and the Trojans pulled away.

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“We came out with a lot heart and energy and we came out and battled until the very end,” Freeman said. “We had some key mistakes that happened and if the ball would have bounced the other way, who knows what the scoreboard would say. The scoreboard doesn’t match how the real game was.”

In the second half, the Trojans forced three MCC turnovers that led to scores, and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. With MCC leading 14-12, Carlson fumbled the ball on R-P’s first drive of the second half, giving the Rebels an opportunity to extend their lead. But three plays later they fumbled it right back to the Trojans, who took the ball 41 yards on a 7-play drive, culminating in a Carlson 3-yard touchdown to give them an 18-12 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Rushford-Peterson then extended its lead later in the fourth quarter with a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Landon Skalet to receiver Jake Paulson. Skalet lobbed a jump-ball near the goal line and Paulson lept into the air to bring it down over two MCC defenders to extend the lead to 24-14.

MCC answered that score by marching down the field on a 16-play, 65-yard scoring drive culminating in a 2-yard touchdown run by Zach Aanenson to bring the Rebels within three at 24-21.

R-P answered immediately as Lukas Rasmussen found a lane and took the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to the house to go up 31-21.

MCC fumbled the next kickoff -- and within two plays the Rebels went from right back in it to totally out. Carlson scored a 5-yard touchdown two minutes later to put R-P ahead 38-21. He added another score late to make it 44-21.

The Trojans running back finished the game with 242 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries. MCC did a good job of corralling the dynamic runner in the first half, but with R-P’s offense spending most of the second half on the field, he really found his groove after intermission.

“Defensively in the first half, we didn’t give up the big play,” Freeman said. “We made them earn everything. They stayed the course in that first half, we were a physical football team.”

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Kellan Johnson and Brady Kremer each had touchdown runs for the Rebels in the first half. Kremer’s came with 16 seconds to go before halftime. From the 7-yard line, the quarterback received the snap out of shotgun and sprinted up the middle for the score to give his team a 14-12 lead. Johnson’s score capped off a 15-play opening drive for the Rebels, with 15-straight run plays and four different players carrying the ball.

“Our offense did an excellent job of sustaining drives,” Freeman said. “That’s what we said we needed to do -- sustain drives and finish. And we were able to do that.”

Johnson finished the game with 54 yards and a score on nine carries, while Kremer had three carries for 10 yards and the score rushing and was 4-of-11 passing with 55 yards and an interception. Aanenson led the Rebels with 131 yards on 22 carries.

MCC 7 7 0 7 -- 21R-P 6 6 12 20 -- 44

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