Screaming Eagles starting to find their way with latest win
Much like trying to discover a new formula to solve a problem, there have been many hits and misses on the path to the Lakes Area Screaming Eagles' first win of the season.
Important factors such as relearning football fundamentals, conditioning and forming a good chemistry have been some of the bumps in the road for the new semi-pro football team.
But after an 0-4 start to their inaugural season against teams which have been established for at least three to four years, the Screaming Eagles seem to have found their glide.
"In our first game of the season, I just thought we were a bunch of guys playing football, not a team," said owner, founder and starting quarterback Jason McCloskey.
"There were building blocks in place and now I am seeing more 'want to win,' instead of just going out there and have a good time."
The Screaming Eagles have been in virtually every game, losing by three points twice and experiencing only one blowout loss -- that coming against Northern Power League leaders Fargo-Moorhead Liberty by the score of 27-7 (in a game which was called after one half of play due to weather).
"We feel like we could have three wins under our belt," McCloskey said. "But we have lost a lot of guys to injury. We need to see our players stay healthy and start building some good chemistry."
Lakes Area isn't doing too badly, considering they are a first-year team. Even though it's the first year of the Northern Power League, the majority of the teams like Willmar, South Metro and Northern Wisconsin have been established squads in other leagues for the past four to five years.
"A team like Willmar was losing those close games like we have been this year," McCloskey said in an earlier interview. "Next year, if we gain some of that chemistry, we can start winning those close games, too."
The Screaming Eagles haven't been heavily outscored and have a small deficit on the scoreboard this season, by a 111-97 margin.
Some of the strengths displayed by the Lakes Area team have been their lines.
Defensively, the Eagles have allowed 628 rushing yards, or 139.5 yards per game. That is due in a large part to a solid defensive line and an aggressive linebacking corps led by former Perham Yellowjacket Nick Kaputh.
Big plays from opposing offenses still have plagued the Eagles' defense, with more speed needing to come from L.A.
One advantage the Screa-ming Eagles had entering the season was the quarterback position, where McCloskey gave the team a much-needed veteran presence.
He is a veteran of semi-pro football at the position and had been a league-leading passer in four seasons.
Even though the passing numbers are not impressive -- 446 yards, going 30-98 for five touchdowns and eighth interceptions -- numbers are deceiving in that regard.
Dropped passes have been an Achilles' heel to the team, numbering up in the low 20s.
But again, inexperience in the skill positions contributes to the dropped passes, and those positions are progressing weekly.
Case in point, McCloskey has two 40-plus yard touchdown passes in the last two games -- both to the athletic Mike Christensen, who has only two catches on the season, but both for touchdowns and 91 yards.
"He has great athletic ability and is just learning football, because he played soccer and hockey in high school at Detroit Lakes," McCloskey said.
"We needed speed after seeing what we had the first few games, and he was playing some at cornerback. So we put him at wide receiver and he's given up some ability to throw the deep ball."
T.J. Ash has established himself as the possession receiver, with a team-high nine catches -- seven coming against Willmar -- for 107 yards and a touchdown.
But the best friend to a young offense and to a quarterback is a good rushing game.
Former Ottertail Central back Dave Moll -- who also played linebacker and strong safety at Concordia College -- has given the Screaming Eagles a legit every-down running back.
Combine Moll with former Frazee Hornet Kyler Wegner and the Lakes Area offense has a well-established one-two rushing punch.
"Dave is a low runner and a fast running back," McCloskey said. "He gets stronger as the game wears on. He just has to get some better vision on finding the holes and he'll be that much better.
"With him and Kyler in the backfield, that's probably been the best rushing duo I've played with yet. Kyler is great as a blocker and has sprung Dave on many iso (blocks)."
Moll leads the team with 334 yards on 68 carries, after not seeing much action in the backfield in the first two games.
Wegner has 210 yards on 51 carries, with both being good targets out of the backfield in the short-passing game.
The offensive line, which is anchored by veteran D.J. Stone, is also progressively getting better, McCloskey added, despite losing two regular starters due to injury.
Not too surprisingly, sharpening the mental game will be a prerogative for the rest of the season.
"We are lacking some mentally, such as missing blocks and running routes," McCloskey commented. "Traditionally, teams are tougher at home, too, and we have two out of our final four games at home."
Lakes Area had this weekend off, and will travel to Duluth July 12. The week after, they will travel to face South Metro in a rematch of the season opener, where the Dragons won 28-26, after a last-second missed field goal by McCloskey.
The final two games are at home against the Fargo-Moorhead Liberty July 26, during Turkey Days in Frazee, and and the regular season ender on Aug. 2, against Willmar.
Playoffs start Saturday, Aug. 9.
The 2008 Lakes Area Screaming Eagles season stats -- Record: 1-4.
Screaming Eagles 97,
Lakes Area - 20 37 12 28 -- 97
Opponents -34 35 25 17 -- 111
Jason McCloskey -- 32 points (5 rushing TDs, 2-3 PAT?kicks).
Mike Christensen -- 21 points (2 receiving TDs, 1 FG, 6-8 PAT kicks).
Dave Moll -- 18 points (2 rushing TDs, 1 receiving TD).
John Lubitz -- 8 points (1 receiving TD, 1 2-point reception).
Kyler Wegner -- 6 points (1 rushing TD).
Jason Kirkwood -- 6 points (1 rushing TD).
Chris Roberts --?6 points (1 interception for TD).
TJ?Ash -- 6 points (1 receiving TD).
First Downs 56
By Rushing 35
By passing 15
By penalty 6
Net Yards Rushing 716
No. rushes 171
Yards gained 831
Yards lost 115
Net Yards Passing 446
No. passes 98
Had intercepted 8
Interception yards 97
Total Offensive Plays 291
TOTAL NET YARDS 1,162
Ave. kickoff 36.2
Kickoffs Returned 20
Ave. return 22.7
Fumbles lost 6
* * *
Player NR YG YL Net
Dave Moll 68 348 14 334
Kyler Wegner 51 254 44 210
Jason McCloskey 27 124 48 76
Anthony Carpenter 13 59 4 55
Jason?Kirkwood 11 46 5 41
Terrel Flanigan 1 0 0 0
* * *
Player No Comp Inc Int Yds TD
McCloskey 98 30 60 8 446 5
* * *
Player No. Yds. TD
TJ?Ash 9 107 1
Wegner 7 66 0
Moll 4 66 1
Stoney?Grant 4 50 0
John Lubitz 3 48 1
Mike Christensen 2 91 2
Ben Hass 1 18 0
* * *
Player No. Yds. Ave.
Christensen 9 348 38.7
Reggie Stecher 5 189 37.8
McCloskey 4 114 28.5
* * *
Player No. Yds. Ave.
Flanigan 7 204 29.1
Rob Peterson 6 106 17.7
Moll 4 84 21
Josh Rehnelt 1 23 23
Ash 1 19 19
Carpenter 1 18 18
* * *
Player No. Yds.
Nick Kaputh 2 34
Peterson 2 15
Carpenter 1 48
Roberts 1 0
Rehnelt 1 0
* * *
Player No. Yds. lost
Sherron Phillips 2 19
Flanigan 1 23
Roberts 1 10
Carpenter 1 5
Matthew Skersick 1 3
Billy Quistorf 1 1
Michael Foerster .5 6
Gemenie Strehlow .5 6
Opponents' yardage (not including game vs. Fargo-Moorhead) -- Rushing:?628 yards...Passing:?405 yards...Total:?1,033 yards.