Rebels, Bombers will battle for 7AA crown
November 3, 2023
When they met for the season opener, Barnum's first victory over Moose Lake/Willow River came only after two overtimes. This week, the neighboring football teams will play again, with the Section 7AA title and a trip to State on the line.
The Bombers remain undefeated after overwhelming the Aitkin Gobblers, 41-0, in one section semifinal at Barnum Saturday, while the Rebels topped Mesabi East, 28-14, in Willow River Saturday to advance to the section championship contest Thursday night in Esko. The Rebels' only loss of the season was to Barnum in both teams' opening game.
Top-seeded Barnum struck early and often as senior quarterback Hayden Charboneau threw five touchdown passes in the first half for a 34-0 lead at the break.
"We played very well in all three facets of the game today," head coach Bobby Minkkinen said. "We had so much energy and focus, we were ready today. It was a great team win."
That win included a group of seniors who have played under coach Minkkinen for 10 years, who have worked so hard through the years to get to this point.
"I inherited a great team that was on the rise. Our leaders have been with me forever, and I trust their leadership completely," Minkkinen said on the Coaches Corner radio program before the game.
It is a balanced team. Charboneau threw for 236 yards on 15-of-21 passing with five touchdowns passes. Other senior contributors included Carlos Beckstrand, who tallied 119 total yards and scored three touchdowns. Caden Sheff ended up with 88 yards and scored twice, while Cole Laitinen added 87 yards on the ground and had a receiving touchdown.
"We have been playing our best football at the right time of the year and hope we can extend our season to the next level," Minkkinen said.
It seems like the Rebels have played in the section title football game for as long as most people can remember, but the No. 2 seeded ML/WR was tested by the Mesabi East Giants Saturday afternoon. The Rebels eventually prevailed by a score of 28-14.
"Coach Grams has a great team up there this year, probably one of the best groups in many years," ML/WR head coach Dave Louzek said.
Scoring started with a Jaxsyn Schmidt 4-yard touchdown run, and an extra point by Parker Samarzia for the Rebels. But a ML/WR turnover led to a 5-yard touchdown pass from Landon Luke to Cater Sickle that closed the margin to 7-6 late in the first half.
The touchdown by the Giants started a scoring barrage which featured four touchdowns in the next four minutes. Following a nice kickoff return, the Rebels marched down the field quickly and scored six plays later with Schmidt's second touchdown of the day, this one a 25-yard blast into the endzone. The score was 14-6 with three minutes remaining before halftime.
Mesabi East answered right back with two big pass plays from Luke to Sickle. The second pass led to a touchdown and a two-point conversion by the same duo and the contest was tied at 14-14 with 1:09 remaining before the break.
A big kickoff return from Luke Dewy set the Rebels up just past midfield. Schmidt scored again, this time from 45 yards to give the Rebels the lead for good at 21-14 right before the halftime buzzer sounded.
Schmidt finished the game with 185 yards rushing on the day, but saw little playing time after halftime. Micah Thompson and Samarzia took the bulk of carries in the second half, while the ML/WR defense shut down the Giants' passing game. The Giants managed only three first downs in the second half.
The Rebels added one more touchdown midway through the third quarter when Adam Neumann connected with Dewey on a 19-yard touchdown pass. The extra point made it 28-14, and that's how the game ended.
"Each year we adapt to the strengths of the team. and this year our rushing game and our defense have been the keys to our success," Louzek said. "I prefer to run the ball - pound it on the ground. I didn't know how good we would be this year with five young linemen, but they have improved week to week, game to game, and we can play the style I prefer."
The Rebels were set to face Barnum at 6 p.m. Thursday at Esko in the Section 7AA title matchup after this issue of the Pine Knot News went to press. Look for results on our Facebook page and a full game story in next week's paper.