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Kerry Collins, Published November 13 2009

Minnesota high school football playoffs: Nuggets done; Moose Lake-Willow River comes out on top in wild overtime thriller

Two big plays on defense, and one tough runner on offense, and Moose Lake-Willow River is back in Minnesota’s Class 2A semifinals.

But just barely.

MLWR did just enough on Thursday to outlast the Hawley Nuggets for a 41-35 overtime win at the Fargodome.

“When you look at the score, some of those plays look pretty huge,” said Rebels coach Dave Louzek. “We needed a few things like that to happen.”

MLWR moves goes back to the Prep Bowl for the second year in a row. Hawley’s streak of semifinal appearances ends at four.

Nick Kenemore scored on a 63-yard interception return just 11 seconds before halftime to give the Rebels a 28-21 lead at the break.

After Hawley marched down the field to start the third quarter, Michael Unzen stuffed a Hawley runner on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to keep the lead.

“You’d think that would’ve deflated us, but I don’t think it did,” Hawley coach Peder Naatz said. “We came back and played good defense right away.

“We knew it was still going to be a close game.”

After the Nuggets drew within 28-27 midway through the fourth, MLWR charged right back and made it 35-27 with Unzen’s third rushing touchdown of the game.

The Rebels standout finished with 135 yards rushing in addition to his huge stop.

“He had to play that way,” Louzek said. “We lost (Austin) Jacobson to an injury, and that takes a big piece away for us. Unzen really stepped up.”

Down by eight points with 1 minute, 49 seconds to play, Hawley didn’t quit.

A 28-yard pass from Taylor Harms to Nate Mattson set the Nuggets up with a first down on the Rebels’ 12. But three plays later, it was fourth-and-12 from the 14.

Naatz’s answer with the season on the line? Put in backup quarterback Jay Boyer, who hadn’t played a snap all night.

Boyer came through, hitting Harms – the starting QB – for a 14-yard score.

“That’s kind of (gutsy), I guess, but we knew he would have time to get the pass off,” Naatz said. “And Taylor is the best all-around athlete we have on the our squad. He made a play.”

Mattson ran in the two-point try, after a great option pitch by Harms, to tie the game.

Mattson looked like he scored a touchdown in the overtime, but it was called back because of a holding penalty.

Three plays into MLWR’s possession in OT, Rejean Jacobson sliced in from the 1-yard line.

“This is the game we thought we would get,” Louzak said. “We thought it could come down to the last play, and it really did.”

MLWR 7 21 0 7 6–41

Hawley 6 15 0 14 0–35

MLWR: Unzen 6 run (Bennett kick)

H: Spaeth 13 pass from Harms (kick failed)

H: Olson 57 run (Harms kick)

MLWR: Unzen 2 run (Bennett kick)

H: Mattson 4 run (Arens kick)

MLWR: Carlson 8 run (Bennett kick)

MLWR: Kenemor 63 interception return (Bennett kick)

H: Grandbois 5 fumble recovery (pass failed)

MLWR: Unzen 8 run (Bennett kick)

H: Harms 14 pass from Boyer (Mattson run)

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: MLWR, Unzen 24-135, Jacobson 11-50, Rehbein 9-45, Carlson 7-26, Kenemore 2-11, Hoffman 2-0. H, Olson 8-103, Mattson 24-98, Harms 12-72, Grandbois 1-5, Schultz 1-4, Arens 1-0.

PASSING: MLWR, Hoffman 4-8-0, 80 yards; Carlson 0-1-0, 0 yards. H, Hamrs 6-12-1, 95 yards; Boyer 1-2-0, 14 yards.

RECEIVING: MLWR, Carlson 2-32, Jacobson 1-40, Probst 1-8. H, Bjornson 2-26, Mattson 1-28, Olson 1-15, Harms 1-14, Grandbois 1-13, Spaeth 1-13.

Inforum searchword: Hawley Nuggets

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548