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Laker head football coach Flint Motschenbacher, center, talks to the officials during a timeout against Fargo Shanley in the 2009 season opener. The Lakers finished the season 4-6 and earned a trip to the Section 8-4A semifinals. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)

Laker football's strong finish highlights 2009 season

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It's not the way you start a season, but the way you finish.

It's that adage the Detroit Lakes football team can take out of their 2009 season, after starting slow out of the gates with a 2-5 record, but finishing strong winning two of their final three games, while pushing the No. 2 seed Alexandria Cardinals to the limit in the Section 8-4A playoffs to finish 4-6.

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The inexperience and youthful lineup the Lakers employed did show its growing pains, but with each game -- and mistake -- learned from, DL became a respectable squad, which started putting things together.

"We knew coming in that we were going to be inexperienced at just about every position besides offensive line," said DL head coach Flint Motschenbacher. "I was pleased with the improvement throughout the season.

"Basically, it was consistency which we lacked. At times we would play very well and at other times we played like a sophomore team playing varsity."

The Lakers fell to 2-5 after a three-game losing streak occurred in the middle of the season with losses to Duluth Denfeld (20-12), Minnetonka (42-12) and Thief River Falls (35-30).

In two of those losses -- sans Minnetonka (which is playing in its Class 5A section championship -- the Lakers made big comebacks in the second half.

DL also dropped a conference game to Grand Rapids in the third game of the season in double overtime.

"We were in every game, except Minnetonka, and had the ball late to either tie or take the lead," Motschenbacher said. "We just kept getting behind early and they never learned how to play ahead.

"But I will give credit to the guys, they never stopped working. Being 2-5, they could have thrown in the towel towards the end of the season."

That never happened, as the Lakers defeated conference-leading Duluth East on the road in the season finale with a dramatic late comeback.

That win pushed DL into the section playoffs, where they upset No. 3 Sauk Rapids-Rice in the quarterfinals.

Against Thief River Falls, the Lakers fell behind 21-0, but by the end of the final horn, DL had scored just as many touchdowns as the Prowlers -- five -- but lost 28-23 after missing all their PAT attempts.

In their losses, there was one deficiency -- albeit turnovers, penalties or missed opportunities -- which contributed to the loss.

"We just couldn't put an entire game together," Motschenbacher said. "To be successful, you need to limit your mistakes in the three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams."

The Lakers were very green in the backfield with either sophomores or juniors starting.

Sophomore quarterback Joe Mollberg progressed nicely through the season, becoming a strong-armed quarterback to finish with an impressive 1,439 yards with 12 touchdowns.

But as a young QB, Mollberg still has some growing to do, Motschenbacher said.

"I was pleased with Joe's improvement, but he has a lot of work to do yet," the DL coach said. "That comes with experience and as the season went on, he did get better."

Sophomore running back Alex Mason was the team's leading rusher with 569 yards on 125 carries. Mason was an in-between the tackles runner and picked up valuable experience rushing the ball.

The offensive line was anchored by senior Paul Voeltz.

"Paul was the heart and soul of the offensive line," Motschenbacher said.

Junior Josh Stalberger had a breakout season with a team-leading 28 catches for 596 yards and seven touchdowns.

Senior wideout Tanner Duncan came on strong towards the end of the season with 14 grabs for 299 yards and two touchdowns -- including a 96-yard TD reception against Alexandria in the Section semifinals.

Senior tight end Brock Johnson also aided in the passing attack with 14 receptions for 242 yards and two touchdowns, as well as a pass for a score to Stalberger earlier in the season.

"We'll have some good skill players coming back, but will probably have to rebuild the offensive line," Motschenbacher said. "We do have Nate Bausman and Bryce Dutton returning on the line."

The defense also played with some inconsistencies, but still played well enough to keep the Lakers in games.

The unit stepped up in the second halves of near comeback wins over Thief River Falls and Duluth Denfeld, as well as the nice rally win over Duluth East.

Senior lineman Justin Holm was a leader on the defense and finished with 2.5 sacks, while Davis Johnson had 3.5 sacks.

"Our defense ended the season solid," Motschenbacher said. "We'll have experience back in some key positions and I believe we have the right pieces back, it's just another learning curve, though."

The Lakers also had 10 interceptions on the season, with senior Andy Pedersen leading the way with four.

DL finished with a turnover ratio of negative six.

"The team remained positive all season, although it was a tough one," Motschenbacher said. "That's a credit to them."

The key for future success -- like the key for this past season -- is to get more physical.

"There is a tremendous need to improve our physical game," Motschenbacher concluded. "We need to improve physically across the board to get back into the section hunt."

Laker final stats

Detroit Lakes FINAL 2009 season stats: 3-5; Playoffs: 1-1.

Lakers 210, Opponents 232

Detroit Lakes - 27 72 40 58 13 -- 189

Opponents - 69 54 43 52 14-- 205

Scoring leaders

Alex Mason -- 54 points (9 rushing TD).

Josh Stalberger -- 42 points (7 receiving TD).

Joe Mollberg -- 30 points (5 rushing TD).

Nate Baker -- 18 points (1 rushing, 2 receiving TD).

Brock Johnson -- 16 points (2 receiving TD, 2 PAT reception).

Logan Baker -- 12 points (2 rushing TD).

Steven Labine -- 12 points (12-17 PAT kicks).

Tanner Duncan -- 12 points (2 receiving TD).

Connor McLeod -- 6 points (1 interception return)

Brian Labat -- 6 points (1 rushing TD).

Jon Gilson -- 2 points (1 receiving PAT conversion).

DL Opp

First Downs 102 136

By Rushing 57 94

By passing 41 37

By penalty 4 5

Net Yards Rushing 1308 2224

Avg. per rush 3.8 5.3

No. rushes 343 418

Yards gained 1432 2443

Yards lost 124 219

Net Yards Passing 1466 1009

No. passes 175 161

Completed 76 87

Incomplete 88 64

Had intercepted 11 10

Interception yards 203 141

Total Offensive Plays 558 618

TOTAL NET YARDS 2774 3233

Kickoffs 40 42

Yards 1613 1841

Ave. kickoff 40.3 43.9

Kickoffs Returned 28 27

Yards 499 552

Ave. return 17.8 20.4

Fumbles 25 18

Fumbles lost 14 9

Penalties 58 53

Yards 419 410

* * *

Individual Rushing

DL --

Player NR YG YL Net

Alex Mason 125 574 5 569

Logan Baker 53 313 1 312

Joe Mollberg 117 352 93 259

Nate Baker 20 131 23 108

Brian Labat 6 50 1 49

Dominic McAllister 3 14 0 14

TJ Manning 3 12 0 12

Casey Fonder 2 4 0 4

Edgar Negron 1 0 0 0

Steven Labine 1 0 1 (-1)

* * *

Individual Passing

Player No Comp Inc Int Yds TD

DL --

Mollberg 173 75 87 11 1439 12

Brock Johnson 2 1 1 0 27 1

* * *

Pass Receiving

Player No. Yds. TD

DL --

Josh Stalberger 28 596 7

Tanner Duncan 14 299 2

Brock Johnson 14 242 2

N. Baker 10 218 2

Mason 3 33 0

L. Baker 3 31 0

Labat 3 32 0

* * *

Kickoffs

Player No. Yds. Ave.

DL --

Nathan Bausman 31 1401 45.2

Steven Labine 9 212 23.6

* * *

Kickoffs Returned

Player No. Yds. Ave.

DL --

Nate Baker 12 208 17.3

Edgar Negron 4 58 14.5

Erik Larson 3 76 25.3

Connor McLeod 3 46 15.3

Logan Baker 2 45 22.5

Andy Pedersen 2 34 17

Jon Gilson 1 16 16

Rick Hutchinson 1 16 16

* * *

Pass Interceptions

Player No. Yds.

DL -

Andy Pedersen 4 26

McLeod 2 89

Alex Feldt 2 66

Tanner Duncan 1 31

Brian Labat 1 0

* * *

Sacks

Player No. Yds. lost

DL -

Davis Johnson 3.5 20

Justin Holm 2.5 21

Nathan DuChene 2 14

Alex Feldt 2 10

Josh Eggebraaten 1.5 12

Pat Williams 1 10

Andrew Johnson 1 3

Paul Voeltz 1 2

Mason 1 2

Opponets -

Sacks 9 60.

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