Mother Nature turned Mollberg Field into soup as both No. 1 Detroit Lakes and No. 5 Rocori struggled to do anything in the mud during Friday’s section semifinal game. The Lakers capitalized early scoring two first quarter touchdowns that held up in a 14-0 victory over the Spartans on Oct. 27 to advance to the Section 8AAAA championship game.
“You can’t explain it,” Laker running back Reed Mace said. “We tried to run our normal stuff and it worked for a little bit, but they switched up defenses. Coach came in at halftime and drew up a couple plays and it was like I said earlier in the season, pick-up basketball. We drew up a couple new plays and we got it done.”
Mace capped off the Lakers’ opening drive with a 33-yard touchdown run, the biggest play of the game and eventual game-winning score, with nine-minutes, 44-seconds to play in the first quarter.
Getting on the board early was crucial as field conditions deteriorated quickly, especially in the middle of the field.
“We came out and did a good job there at the beginning,” said Laker head coach Josh Omang. “The worse the conditions got the worse the field was and we couldn’t do anything.”
Rocori’s opening drive ended in disaster on a punting fourth down with a bad snap at midfield. Two plays later, the Spartans got the ball back on a fumble by Mace into a pile of players.
Rocori went backwards and faced another punting situation with the same result, a snap over the punter’s head for a 23-yard loss giving DL the ball at the 17-yard line.
Gabe Hanninen bashed his way up the middle for 13 yards on four straight runs. Three plays later, Max Gunderson scored on a one-yard quarterback keeper and Braeden Wimmer made his second point-after kick for a 14-0 lead and the last score of the game with less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The Spartans struggled with snaps all game trying to run their spread offense in the muck. Shotgun snaps were frequently on the ground, but the footing was so bad that plays were moving at a slow enough pace that neither team had an advantage trying to get to a loose ball.
On defense, Rocori stuffed the box with nine defenders and yardage was a war of attrition for the Laker offense.
DL simplified the offense and stripped much of their regular plays out of the playbook just to try to maintain possession of the ball and move the chains.
“We did some old school DL there,” said Omang. “It’s worse than it looked in the middle. You can’t get out of there. It’s just a disaster. It’s fortunate that we played well enough to win this game.”
Rocori never threatened the Laker red zone aside from the final drive of the first half. The Spartans moved 79 yards on nine plays from their own 26 to the DL 15-yard line but ran out of time on the clock. The Lakers aided the drive with 30 yards on two personal foul penalties.
The second half kick went to Rocori and their drive began at their own 40-yard line and ended with a punt from their own five.
The Lakers took the punt and drove from the Spartan 40 to the eight-yard line facing fourth and goal but Gunderson was sacked by Isaac Massmann to end the threat.
The remainder of the third quarter was a stalemate with neither team able to cross midfield.
The fourth quarter was much of the same trading punts. The Spartans had two fourth down conversions foiled by the Laker defense and Will Green ended the game with an interception of Spartan’s third string quarterback Jayden Phillippi.
After six straight blowout victories, the 9-0 Lakers proved they could win a close game and did so overcoming awful conditions.
“The thing is people sometimes forget we did win a close game and a game we were actually trailing,” Omang said. “We can and it comes down to believing and being disciplined. These guys are good at that.”
The Lakers defeated Perham 36-30 in week two scoring the only touchdown of the second half in a game that was 30-28 Yellowjackets at the half.
Stats were minimal for both teams Friday night. The Lakers gained 131 total yards, all rushing. Isaiah Thompson had 15 carries for 50 yards. Mace carried five times for 42 yards, including the 33-yard touchdown.
Brady Morris had five solo tackles and one kickoff coverage tackle that brought groans from the crowd due to the severity of his hits.
The Laker defense held the Spartans to 64 yards of total offense, 48 coming through the air. Rocori rushed the ball 43 times for only 16 yards.
Detroit Lakes will face the No. 2 Willmar Cardinals in a rematch of last year’s section quarterfinal 41-40 shootout won by the Lakers with a last second defensive stand.
“It’s a great accomplishment for this team, but we can’t look past that,” said Mace. “We need to get ready this week and go get it done.”
The Cardinals routed No. 3 St. Cloud Apollo 47-8 to advance.
“They’re a very talented team and we’re going to have our hands full, but we’re a talented team too,” Omang said. “We’ll just go back to work. That’s all you can do.”
The Section 8AAAA final will be played on turf at Alexandria high school Friday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. DL’s victory snapped the four-year run of Rocori as the section champions.
ROC 0 0 0 0 - 0
DL 14 0 0 0 - 14
D -Reed Mace 33 run (Braeden Wimmer kick)
D - Max Gunderson 1 run (Wimmer kick)