Just as the Rush City football team earned a spot amongst the best Class 2A teams in the state, the Tigers hit a wall.
That wall was the Moose Lake-Willow River football squad, which pounded the Tigers 40-6 on a wind-swept, rainy Andy Saloka Field on Wednesday, Oct. 20.
“Moose Lake-Willow River is a really good football team,” Rush City co-coach Joe Lattimore said. “They are well-coached, and they do the little things right.
“When you play a good team like that, you can’t give them short fields and make mistakes. They’re ranked fifth in the state, and you’ll see them do big things in the playoffs.”
Unfortunately, Rush City made mistakes that gave the Rebels short fields, especially in the second half. The start of the contest looked promising as the Tigers engineered a long drive that took almost all of the time in the first quarter, but they fumbled the ball away near the end zone.
Moose Lake-Willow River then broke free for a 77-yard touchdown run with just six seconds left in the first period.
“We had great opportunities [to score] early,” Lattimore said. “We just couldn’t finish. You can’t fault our effort – but we didn’t execute at the end.
“And on our second drive we had an opportunity, but again we didn’t execute well enough – and that’s a good defense that has given up just 27 points this season.”
The Tigers’ second drive ended on downs, but Rush City returned the favor by stopping the Rebels’ next drive. That gave Rush City the ball on its own 29 with 2:29 left in the half; roughly a minute later the Tigers threw a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, intercepted, then returned for a back-breaking touchdown.
“Down 7-0 just before the half, I asked the kids what they wanted to do, and they wanted to do that,” Lattimore said of the ill-fated pass. “We had open guys, but they got a hand in the way.”
The second half was dominated by Moose Lake-Willow River, which scored three TDs in the third quarter and then another in the fourth.
The Tigers avoided the shutout when junior quarterback Nolan Anderson completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to junior Shaun Archambault with just 40 seconds to play.
Rush City’s powerful ground game managed just 210 yards, compared to a whopping 457 rushing yards by Moose Lake-Willow River. Senior Ty Stepp led the Tigers with 75 yards on 20 carries, while Archambault added 63 yards on 17 rushes.
Anderson completed 2-of-5 passes, both to Archambault, for 14 yards while running for 40 yards on nine attempts.
Senior Montgomery Palmer led the Rush City defense with 6.5 tackles, including six solo stops, while Stepp had five solo tackles and junior Landon Umbreit added four solo stops.
Rush City opened Class 2A Section 4 play as the No. 3 seed, which meant the Tigers earned a home contest against Maple Lake on Tuesday, Oct. 26, that was not completed at press time. If Rush City won that contest, it would play again on Saturday, Oct. 30, either at second-seeded St. Agnes or at home against seventh seed Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted.
“A few years ago we played on the road as a sixth seed despite a 6-2 record,” Lattimore said. “We haven’t been at home for a section game since 2016, so that’s huge. …
“We told our kids that the season starts over, and we have to be ready to go on Tuesday.”