Some unlikely heroes and the usual suspects made huge plays at just the right times for the Detroit Lakes football team as the Lakers held off the defending Section 8-4A champion Willmar Cardinals 44-43 in a wild contest at Mollberg Field Friday, Aug. 30 to open the season.
Trailing 37-36 with 10-minutes to play, the Lakers moved 61 yards in three minutes to get to the Cardinals’ 17-yard line where DL starting quarterback Max Gunderson stayed on the ground, with the ball, with cramps and had to leave the game.
Enter the hero, junior backup Matthew Tobkin.
“Coach always talks about being ready when it’s your time and when I heard my name I had to control myself, stay calm, stay poised,” Tobkin said.
Tobkin’s first play was a handoff to Jake Green that went nowhere. The junior calmly brought the Lakers back to the line and Isaiah Thompson ran for seven and five yards on consecutive plays to set up a Jackson Fields two-yard touchdown run with six minutes on the clock.
DL led 42-37, no-man's land on the scoreboard where a single extra point does little to help the cause.
Head coach Josh Omang elected to go for the deuce and put the critical points into the hands of Tobkin who bought time in the pocket and found Fields for two points on a pass to put the Lakers up 44-37.
“Those are the defending state runner-ups,” said Tobkin. “They’re a really good football team. We had to come out and work our asses off. We had to stick in there, but we did and came out with the victory.”
Willmar quarterback Tanner Bauman used a 35-yard screen pass to Michael Price on third-and-four to propel the Cardinals on the ensuing drive. Bauman moved his offense 65 yards in four plays culminating in a 23-yard touchdown pass to Adam Dejon all alone at the left pylon to pull within a point trailing 44-43.
Enter the heroes, senior defensive linemen and stars on the wrestling team Jordan Skadsem and Andrew Annette.
The duo burst through the Cardinals line and snuffed out the game-tying point-after kick by LaBlue Moo to keep DL in front with 4:25 to play.
“I don’t even know if I hit it, honestly, it was just a big pile,” Skadsem said. “We’ve practiced that a couple times. We had to get it.”
Annette was credited with the block.
“That’s just one of those, you don’t see a lot of those,” said Omang. “Guys just have to make a play in that situation and we certainly work on it, but those aren’t automatic.”
Willmar’s onsides kick attempt failed and Tobkin came back on the field to secure the victory.
“Towards the end of the game we needed to stay more calm, chew the clock off,” he said. “Big thanks to my offensive line, running backs, wideouts, everyone believing in me. It’s so good to have such a good support system behind you. When you step in and everyone is behind you it’s so fun.”
Omang was impressed by his junior signal-caller’s ability, along with the rest of the team, to step in and get the job done in crunch time.
“It’s our system; we believe in our system and we also have belief in those kids,” said Omang. “We talk about that a lot; be ready when it’s your time. That’s just who he is. Sometimes I get after him because he’s a little bit too calm but he did a really good job.”
Two-minutes after the second half kickoff, Gabe Hanninen gave DL its first lead on a two-yard run. Isaiah Thompson scored from four yards out at the six-minute mark of the third quarter for a 36-28 lead.
“There was a lot of grinding, but they got tired and we kept going," said Skadsem. “Isaiah came back and gave us a little energy at the end there.”
Bauman found Ashton Gregory on a one-yard pass at the 2:55 mark but his two-point rushing attempt to tie was blown up by Fields in the backfield preserving DL’s 36-34 lead heading to the fourth quarter heroics.
The Lakers trailed 28-23 at halftime and needed a little luck and a late rally to avoid going to the break down two scores. Willmar scored at will early in the game but DL took advantage of a big miscue on a Cardinals’ punt attempt deep in their own end to score nine points in just over a minute late in the half.
The Lakers were not surprised by Willmar’s scoring ability and came into the game knowing they might be in for a shootout.
“I kind of figured it would; I hoped it wouldn’t be,” said Skadsem.
After the wild first half, the Lakers went to the halftime huddle ready to shore up what caused them to trail at the break.
“Coaches weren’t mad or anything,” said Tobkin. “They just told us what we had to improve on and what we had to get better at and we came out and we did it.”
Omang urged his kids to keep fighting in his halftime speech.
“We wanted to keep battling and be in the game and we were,” said Omang. “I think there was a time when we could’ve got down and quit when they got up two (touchdowns) on us.”
Willmar took the opening kickoff and scored three minutes into the game on a 46-yard pass from Bauman to Will Hasken.
The Lakers moved 76 yards on 10 plays to answer and tie the game 7-7 on a Gunderson pass to Reed Mace and Braeden Wimmer’s point-after kick at 5:50 mark.
The Cardinals took a 14-7 lead at 2:26 of the first quarter when Ethan Roux rushed 15 yards to the end zone to cap a 10-play, 72-yard drive.
DL went three-and-out leading to a short, Caden Yliniemi punt that put Willmar in business at the Laker 42-yard line with less than a minute remaining in the quarter.
Bauman went to the air again on the first play of the second quarter exploiting the DL secondary for a 21-7 lead when he connected with Zachary Morrell who made a leaping grab from 24-yards away to score.
The Cardinals’ spread offense gave DL’s third level problems early in the game. The secondary was also a noted concern of the Laker coaching staff at the end of the preseason.
“That’s our area of growth, the secondary,” said Omang. “There are a lot of young kids back there and they could’ve quit and got down on themselves and turn one bad play into three or four bad plays and they didn’t. That’s part of the growth. That stuff is hard to defend anyway. Caeden Yliniemi, Christian Solberg and Schwany (Drew Schwan), those guys made a few mistakes but they also made a lot of good plays too.”
Willmar lost Roux at starting running back when he was injured playing defense on DL’s first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive.
DL marched 75 yards on 11 plays leading to a Hanninen six-yard touchdown run and Wimmer kick to close to within seven points 21-14.
Relief was nowhere to be found when Wimmer’s kickoff landed in the hands of Morrell at the 13-yard line. 87 yards later Morrell hit the end zone on the kick six to put what looked like a dagger in the hearts of Laker fans stretching the lead back to 28-14 at 7:46 of the second quarter.
The Lakers moved to midfield but were forced to punt.
The Cardinals were unable to move the ball in return as both defenses took charge briefly.
DL defenders forced a punt from Tanner Fleming at the Willmar 24-yard line. The snap sailed over Fleming’s head and he was forced to smother the ball in the end zone for a safety giving the ball back to DL but leading 28-16.
Reed Mace took the kick after the safety at his own 40 and bolted into Cardinals’ territory setting up Gunderson and the offense at the Willmar 31.
After a five-yard penalty, Gunderson ran for six yards and scored on a 29-yard run to get DL within five points 28-23 after Wimmer’s PAT completed an important turn of momentum with 3:11 left until halftime.
A late answer by Willmar was snuffed out by Gunderson defensively when he picked off Bauman with 39 seconds left in the half.
Thompson rushed for 151 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown in only one half of carrying the ball.
Hanninen rushed 13 times for 76 yards before leaving the game with a potential concussion.
Gunderson was 7-61 rushing and completed three of four passes for 38 yards before ending the game on the bench.
Fields had a unique game with the longest Laker reception of 19 yards, a rushing touchdown, a key two-point conversion reception, a team-high 10 tackles, one for a loss and a sack. After the game he noted he had never been so sore in his life and likely was not the only player on the field feeling that way.
Willmar (0-1) hosts Delano (1-0) in the Cardinals home-opener next week.
Detroit Lakes (1-0) travels to Park Rapids Area (0-1) next Friday, Sept. 6. The Panthers lost to Ottertail Central 38-6 at home Friday night.
Detroit Lakes 44, Willmar 43
W 14 14 6 9 - 43
D 7 16 13 8 - 44
W - 9:53 Will Hasken 46 pass from Tanner Bauman (LaBlue Moo kick)
D - 5:50 Reed Mace 11 pass from Max Gunderson (Braeden Wimmer kick)
W - 2:26 Ethan Roux 15 run (Moo kick)
W - 11:55 Zachary Morrell 24 pass from Bauman (Moo kick)
D - 7:58 Gabe Hanninen 6 run (Wimmer kick)
W - 7:46 Morrell 87 kick return (Moo kick)
D - 3:11 Safety
D - 2:18 Gunderson 29 run (Wimmer kick)
D - 10:05 Hanninen 2 run (Wimmer kick)
D - 5:46 Isaiah Thompson 4 run (Kick failed)
W - 2:55 Ashton Gregory 1 pass from Bauman (run failed)
W - Moo 23 field goal
D - Jackson Fields 2 run (Fields pass from Matthew Tobkin)
W - Adam Dejong 23 pass from Bauman (kick blocked)