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Prep football: Barnesville defense stymies MLWR in state quarterfinal

The Trojans advanced to play Jackson County Central in the Class AA semifinal Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

high school boys playing football
Moose Lake/Willow River tight end Sam Knezevich (8) carries the ball against Barnesville during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. CLOUD —Barnesville running back John Roller broke free for a 53-yard touchdown to clinch a 21-0 win over Moose Lake/Willow River in the Minnesota Class AA quarterfinal Thursday at St. Cloud Tech High School.

His touchdown was the only score after the first quarter, with defenses dominating after the Trojans jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter.

“I came through the line and it was covered most of the other times,” Roller said. “I could get 3 to 4 yards a pop, but then on that play for some reason I just had an open gap. I cut toward the gap and I went all the way.”

Roller is the Trojans' leading rusher, but they have so many options, if Roller is off, there is someone else to step in.

high school boys playing football
Moose Lake/Willow River running back Kaden Robbins (22) carries the ball against Barnesville during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“He runs hard and he’s got a fantastic spin move, but the thing is, you can’t key on any one of our backs,” Barnesville coach Bryan Strand said. “I want to say our top five backs are averaging 8.5 to 11 yards a carry. If one gets stopped, the next one is going to step up.”

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Barnesville looked to run away with the game early, picking up touchdowns on its first two offensive possessions without taking an offensive snap in their own territory until the second quarter.

When the Rebels finally did force Barnesville to drive the field, their defense was able to frustrate the Trojans’ Power T offensive formation.

“This offense, especially with a good team like Barnesville, is really tough to defend against,” MLWR coach Dave Louzek said. “They’ve got those three running backs plus their quarterback and there’s so much misdirection, if you’re trying to guess where the ball is, you’re just chasing all the time. Everybody had an assignment and has to be really disciplined. Our defense made them play for four quarters, so I’m really proud of them.”

high school boys playing football
Barnesville tight end Tate Inniger (80) carries the ball against Moose Lake/Willow River during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The Rebels' power running game was ineffective against the defensive front of Barnesville, a team that has allowed about 1.4 yards a carry, according to Strand.

“Their defensive line is so big and strong — they just outmuscled our offensive line,” Louzek said. “It’s a credit to them for just being stronger than our offensive line, we weren’t able to run the ball and that’s got to be our bread and butter.”

The cold weather with gusty wind caused problems for both teams and allowed the defenses to dominate the game.

“The cold weather didn’t help and we put the ball on the ground a few times, but for the first time all season we were matched physically,” Strand said. “I thought it was a battle back and forth — we weren’t giving up any yards and they weren’t either. It was just a good defensive game.”

high school boys playing football
Moose Lake/Willow River quarterback Adam Neumann (12) reaches for a poorly snapped ball against Barnesville during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The Rebels (9-2) end their season in the state quarterfinal for the second straight year, and Louzek said what makes this team special is not the differences with past teams, but the similarities.

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“They’re all similar, they’ve worked so hard and that’s why so many of our teams have been successful from year to year,” Louzek said. “What makes it special is we develop that family atmosphere and the kids really buy into that and we as coaches get so much out of being around these young kids every year. I think that’s what keeps us coming back.”

high school boys playing football
Barnesville running back Andrew Pederson (30) carries the ball against Moose Lake/Willow River defensive end Jimmy Walker (11) during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Barnesville (11-0) will play Jackson County Central in the Class AA semifinal at 9 a.m. Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Huskies beat Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted 27-0 to advance.

Moose Lake/WR 0-0-0-0—0

Barnesville 13-0-0-8—21

B — John Roller 4 run (Isaac Maneval kick)

B — Braedan Bredman (kick failed)

B — Roller 53 run (Dawson Gregg run)

high school boys playing football
Barnesville fullback John Roller (21) celebrates with Barnesville running back Ethan Larson (45) after scoring a touchdown against Moose Lake/Willow River during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys playing football
Barnesville fullback John Roller (21) carries the ball for a touchdown against Moose Lake/Willow River during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys playing football
Barnesville running back Ethan Larson (45) carries the ball against Moose Lake/Willow River during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys playing football
Moose Lake/Willow River running back Jaxsyn Schmidt (23) carries the ball against Barnesville defensive back Braeden Bredman (20) during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys playing football
Barnesville running back Braeden Bredman (20) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Moose Lake/Willow River with Barnesville offensive lineman Jonathan Robideau (54) during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys playing football
Barnesville running back Ethan Larson (45) carries the ball against Moose Lake/Willow River defensive back Sam Knezevich (8) during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys playing football
Barnesville tight end Wyatt Suter (87) carries the ball against Moose Lake/Willow River during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys playing football
Barnesville running back Braeden Bredman (20) reacts after missing a pass during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
football players hugging
Moose Lake/Willow River running back Dawson Mortensen (33) and Jimmy Walker (11) react after losing to Barnesville during the Class AA state quarterfinal at Tech High School on Thursday in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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