Esko beaten in state quarterfinal
November 10, 2023
Esko's football season is over after a 14-7 loss to Annandale Saturday in Brainerd. The two teams came into the quarterfinal game of the state tournament with vaunted offenses. In the end, it came down to defense.
Esko struggled to get anything going offensively after it went up 7-0 early in the first quarter on a drive that included a 36-yard run by Joey Antonutti. Esko scored on a 32-yard bobbling Sam Haugen catch from Jacion Owens.
Things were rolling for Esko as they drove two more times into scoring position, only to lose the ball, first on a fumble at Annadale’s 28-yard line and then an interception with Annandale taking over at its own 4 early in the second quarter.
Standout senior Koi Perich was hurt in the first quarter, having run just four times for 9 yards. He did not return to the game.
The Esko defense had been stout, giving up just 19 yards in offense in the opening quarter.
But the Cardinals took advantage of the interception, getting a 66-yard pass to to Esko’s 20. Seven plays later, the Cards scored on an option pitch that the team would end up having success with as the Esko interior defense remained dominant.
Tied 7-7 at the half, both defenses bore down for a slugfest in the second. The teams traded punts throughout the third quarter until the Annandale offensive line found a way to break through the Esko defense. The Cardinals hammered away with the run, peppered with passes, by the end of the third and scored early in the fourth to take
a 14-7 lead.
Esko had plenty of chances on offense after that but just couldn’t sustain a drive after dominating time of possession in the first half.
Annandale bested Esko the 2019 state quarterfinal game, played on the same field at Brainerd High School.
Esko’s remarkable season, with a third-straight trip to state, was suddenly over. It had held opponents to less than a touchdown per game over the regular season and averaged more than 60 points a game.
The team went 10-1.
Look for full coverage in next week’s Pine Knot News.