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Bombs away! Lakers' passing trumps TRF

LAKER QB JOE MOLLBERG (14) looks downfield for an open receiver during the first quarter of Friday night's win over Thief River Falls.1 / 3
Brandon Dahring (35) latches onto Thief River Falls running back Ryan Hutton's (20) legs Friday night.2 / 3
Brian Labat blows through the Thief River Falls secondary after making a catch in the first quarter of Friday night's game at Mollberg Field.3 / 3

There were two elements which were on display in Friday's game on Mollberg Field between the Detroit Lakes Lakers and the visiting Thief River Falls Prowlers.

It was the classic struggle between ground and air, as the Lakers spread 'em out and relied on quick strikes down the field from the arm of senior quarterback Joe Mollberg, while Thief River Falls employed a plodding and relentless rushing attack by its two-headed monster, fullback Kaleb Torgerson and running back Ralph Williams.

In the end, it wasn't what either offensive attack did, it was DL's defense which sealed a 21-20 victory.

The Lakers' defense came up big late in the fourth quarter after a Mollberg interception by Ryker Anderson gave the ball to the Prowlers on the DL 38 with 4:15 on the clock and the visiting team down just one point.

TRF drove down the field, thanks in part to a 21-yard throw by quarterback Alex Johnson to Jacob Mattison, which was just one of four completions for the Prowlers.

But the DL defense hunkered in for a ground-pounding by Torgerson and Williams, instead driving the Prowlers backward.

Senior linebacker Casey Fonder, who has been putting together a highlight reel the last three weeks with some teeth-rattling hits, stuffed Williams in the backfield for an eight-yard loss on third and four from the DL 13.

"They were a team with some big players, but we eventually found some weaknesses," Fonder said. "We were keying on (Williams and Torgerson) the entire game and we saw whereever their guards went, we went. I just found a hole, bolted through it and brought (Williams) down.

"We went out there and emptied our tank, because we knew that was going to be the game."

The resulting play left Thief River Falls at fourth and 12 with under a minute left. A false start on the ensuing play pushed them back further for a fourth and 17 play, with Johnson's pass falling harmlessly to the ground to ultimately end the game.

Mollberg, who was 13-26 for 170 yards and three touchdowns, was grateful for the defensive stand after his untimely interception.

"They saved my butt," Mollberg said of his defense. "(The interception) was just a swing pass to the left and I didn't see anything after I threw it because there was some pressure in my face. This is a big win against a good rival. It's a huge booster for us."

With Mollberg's ankle still not at 100-percent, instead more like "70-percent," the Lakers came out with a spread offense.

The Lakers had just seven drives and scored touchdowns on three of them.

The touchdown drives included nine plays, eight and three.

The final scoring drive answered TRF's third touchdown by Williams to put the Prowlers up 20-14.

A nice kickoff return set DL up on their own 42, with Mollberg and his set of receivers ready to run.

The Lakers had just 13 rushes in the game, with 12 of them by Mollberg for 19 yards and one other by slotback Taylor Magnuson for two yards. They didn't have any conventional handoffs; instead they started to attack the flats with screens, which basically were extended handoffs.

It paid off, as Mollberg hit Herzog on screens of eight and four yards for a first down. A Prowler personal foul on Herzog's second catch set DL up on the TRF 31.

Mollberg did a quick three-step drop and hit Labat in the flat. The big slotback made a cut to make the linebacker miss, then hit the Prowler sideline.

Wide receiver Rick Hutchinson made a timely block to break Labat open, who sprinted the final 31 yards for the score.

"We've been working on the screen all week so we switched to it later in the game, because it was there," Mollberg said. "Rick made a huge block downfield, he had another great game."

Steven Labine converted his third PAT kick of the game, which ended up being the clincher in the 21-20 win.

"This was a team win, a lot of players contributed in it," said DL head coach Flint Motschenbacher. "The coaches made some great adjustments at halftime to help (contain) their rushing attack. Thief River Falls was gambling a little on defense (on the 31-yard screen pass to Labat) and we just checked down there."

The reason the Lakers had only seven possessions in the game was largely due to the Prowlers' rushing attack and a first-half drive which gobbled up an amazing 23 plays for 86 yards, and took over 12 minutes off the clock.

The march started in the first quarter, after a Laker punt with DL leading 7-6.

Thief River Falls had a total of six first downs in the drive, set up by third and short situations. The Prowlers also made three fourth-down conversions, including a fourth-and-goal from the three.

Williams made the plunge on a pitch left play to put TRF up 14-7 after a Johnson two-point conversion run.

By the time the Prowlers' offense came off the field, there was just 1:30 left in the second quarter.

In the half, DL had the ball just three times, scoring a touchdown on its first possession after Mollberg went 4-7 for 52 yards, capped by an 11-yard frozen rope to Hutchinson on the goal line.

DL scored on their second possession of the third quarter with a screen pass from Mollberg to sophomore fullback Michael Herzog, who found a crease for a 17-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14-14.

"We definitely didn't have the ball as much as we would have liked," Mollberg said. "After scoring on our first drive, then not having the ball until the second half, it took a little breath out of us."

But as has been the case in the first three weeks of the season, the defense made some plays to keep the Lakers within striking distance.

And as Fonder said, that's all they need to do, because DL's offense can score anytime, from anywhere on the field.

The Lakers also stifled the Prowlers from inside DL's 10 early in the fourth quarter, which was another important stand.

"We've been disciplined all season and all we want to do is get the ball back to our offense and Joe (Mollberg), because they'll punch it in," Fonder said. "We felt like we redeemed ourselves from a week ago (in the 8-7 loss to Pequot Lakes)."

The Prowlers were the exact opposite of the Lakers, as they rushed the ball 56 times for 235 yards (4.2 yards per rush).

Williams led the way with 129 yards on 22 carries (5.9 ypc), while Torgerson supplied 62 hard-grinding yards on 21 carries.

TRF added 15 first downs -- 13 by rushing -- to help their ball-control offense.

"We needed to get the ball back in the second half and we made a couple of big third down conversions," Motschenbacher said. "That helped us match their scoring and keep up with them. Our coaches also made adjustments to (Torgerson), forcing him to run sideways in the second half, instead of downhill."

The win is also big in that it keeps the Lakers in the hunt for the Heart O'Lakes Conference crown, with a 1-1 conference record and a 2-1 overall mark.

The Lakers will host Staples-Motley (0-2) for their Homecoming game Friday, starting at 7 p.m.

Laker results

Thief River Falls at Detroit Lakes, Friday, Sept. 16.

Prowlers 6 8 0 6 - 20

Lakers 7 0 7 7 - 21

DL: Rick Hutchinson 11-yard pass from Joe Mollberg; Steven Labine kick. 7:15, 1st quarter.

TRF: Ralph Williams 16-yard run; kick failed. 4:44, 1st.

TRF: Williams 3-yard run; Alex Johnson run. 1:30, 2nd.

DL: Michael Herzog 17-yard pass from Mollberg; Labine kick. 4:54, 3rd.

TRF: Williams 3-yard run; run failed. 7:09, 4th.

DL: Brian Labat 31-yard pass from Mollberg; Labine kick. 6:09, 4th.

Rushing (att-yds) -- DL: Joe Mollberg 12-19; Taylor Magnuson 1-2. Team: 13-21...TRF: Ralph Williams 22-129; Kaleb Torgerson 21-62; Ryan Hutton 8-29; Ryker Anderson 4-10; Alex Johnson 1-5. Team: 56-235.

Passing (att-comp-inc-int-yds-td) -- DL: Mollberg 26-13-12-1-170-3...TRF: Johnson 6-4-2-0-63-0.

Receiving (rec-yds-td) -- DL: Brian Labat 5-78-1; Rick Hutchinson 4-52-1; Michael Herzog 4-40-1...TRF: Jacob Mattison 3-60-0; Torgerson 1-3-0.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.