It was a warm and beautiful evening for Homecoming on Friday, but in the end the Eskomos left the Tigers with a chilling 14-12 loss.
Matt Mallinger ran the ball in for the first Rush City touchdown. He also returned a kickoff for a second exciting score against Esko.
Mallinger and Johnathan Mielke led the team in tackles.
“Statistically, this was not a game that was going to light up the record books,” said coach Paul Kirby. “Esko is a tough 3A team, and we were a missed two point conversion away from tying up with them. Although ultimately we lost, I think it was an intense and exciting Homecoming game for the players and fans.
“Our defense played outstanding once again. We stifled the run game and tolerated their talented passing game. Even though our offense wasn’t able to sustain any drives with multiple first downs, we did control much of the momentum in the second half with strong defense and stellar special teams play.
“Matt had two great returns. Whether it was to give our defense breathing room or pin Esko deep in their own territory, Dan Johnson punted the ball extremely well. Brandon Koehnle effortlessly snapped the ball, and our coverage guys held up their end of the bargain.
“There were a couple of unfortunate mistakes at inopportune times — a dropped ball or a missed call here and there, and we just weren’t able to play through them. No doubt, we all want to win, but the coaches were satisfied with the effort on the field against a tough opponent. The players have begun to realize that we weren’t pulling their legs when telling the team about their talent and potential. There are plenty of important games ahead, and we will continue to prepare, practice and play like we now know we are capable of,” Kirby explained.
Thriller over Duluth Marshall
Successful two point conversions made the difference for the Tigers on Friday, Sept. 21, when the Rush City football team won in an overtime thriller at Duluth Marshall.
At the start of the second half the Hilltoppers led 7-6, until the Tigers answered with Mallinger reaching paydirt for the second time of the night. He also crossed the goal line for a critical two-point conversion.
Duluth Marshall came right back, however, to score in the fourth quarter to knot the game at 14.
In overtime the Hilltoppers scored a touchdown with a successful point after attempt, but Rush City again responded thanks to some hard running by Koehnle. It was then decision time for the Tigers who could either try for the tie or go for the win.
They chose the latter, which turned out to be the right call as Dalton Folkema caught a pass in the endzone for the two-point conversion. Tigers win 22-21.
“After losing several key players to injury in the recent weeks, we have asked players to step up, fill in and learn a lot in a short time” said coach Kirby. “The team responded wonderfully. Ryan Lind has emerged as a leader among the linemen as his teammates filled in around him. I was proud of the play of underclassmen Braxton Wolf, Caleb Anderson, Tom Smith and Cody Seifert. The varsity game happens at light speeds, and these young men gave a tremendous effort.
“Defensively, this was our best game of the season. A ton of credit should go to the defensive game plan that coach Saari implemented with the help of our other assistant coaches Lattimore, Mettling and O’Donnell.
“Danny Myers has come a long way, and Johnathan Mielke played a great two-way game at middle linebacker and fullback. With his lead we were able slow down Duluth Marshall’s option offense and maintain some of that momentum on our side of the ball.
“Matt Mallinger is rushing the ball well. He has matured into a premier running back and broke two long runs for touchdowns, ending the game with 159 total yards. Brandon Koehnle rushed for an exciting 6-yard touchdown in overtime and capped off a great afternoon of high school football by converting the two-point conversion on a toss to Dalton Folkema in the back corner of the endzone.
“Given the extent of some of our personnel issues, I’m not sure many people gave us a chance to win this game. Duluth Marshall is a well-coached, much improved team and battled to the bitter end. This game had a little bit of everything that makes high school football great. The lead went back and forth. Both defenses hit hard, and lucky for us we came out on top. I’m sure many people will remember this game for some time to come. But as I’ve said before, we have to savor this but quickly move on.”
The Rush City football team has a 1-3 Great Polar Blue Alliance Conference record and 2-3 overall record. The Tigers will host the #2 state ranked Moose Lake-Willow River Rebels (5-0 record) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5.