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High school football: Rough first quarter foils Riders

Grand Forks Red River threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and even recovered a late on-side kick.

Unfortunately for the Roughriders, by that point a disastrous first quarter had already decided the outcome.

Red River fumbled the opening kickoff out of bounds at its own 2, took a safety on its first offensive play and the rest of the opening 12 minutes snowballed as Detroit Lakes took advantage in a 28-14 victory on Friday night at Cushman Field.

"We had a great kickoff and got a good bounce," Detroit Lakes coach Flint Motschenbacher said. "We made a nice play (for the safety) and stuck one in on them. That was big."

Red River's first three offensive plays all went awry. On its opening play, Red River running back A.J. Johnstone was tackled in the end zone for a 2-yard loss, resulting in a safety.

Then after recovering a Detroit Lakes fumble, Red River's next two plays were a holding penalty followed by an interception.

"That first quarter definitely didn't help," said Red River coach Vyrn Muir, whose team trailed 16-0 after the opening frame.

The pick by Detroit Lakes defensive back Rick Hutchinson set up the Lakers' first touchdown. Taking over on the Red River 27, the Lakers needed six plays to score. The drive was capped by Nate Baker's 17-yard screen pass on fourth-and-11 for a 9-0 lead.

The Lakers bumped the lead to 16-0 when quarterback Joe Mollberg ran in from 4 yards out to cap a quick five-play drive, highlighted by Joshua Stalberger's 21-yard catch on third-and-5.

Mollberg, a 6-foot-3 195-pound junior, was a handful. He rushed for 145 yards on 23 carries, including three scores. He also passed for 75 yards.

"He's the total package," Motschenbacher said. "He can run and throw. He's also a very good leader. That's what Red River was giving us tonight. They were doing a great job on the dive plays and took away the perimeter."

Mollberg's favorite target was Joshua Stalberger, a 6-foot-4 195-pound senior, who had five catches for 57 yards.

Red River's offense was slow out of the gates. The Riders didn't pick up a first down until six and a half minutes left in the second quarter. Detroit Lakes finished the first half with 152 yards of total offense to Red River's 46.

The physical, deep Lakers wore down the Riders up front. Red River was also playing without two regular linemen and two more linemen missed time against the Lakers.

"We saw them on film and thought they were pretty big," Muir said. "But then we see them in person and they are even bigger."

Detroit Lakes pulled away early in the second half with a convincing 12-play, 76-yard drive that chewed up 5:29 of clock. The drive culminated in a 3-yard sneak by Mollberg for a 22-0 advantage.

Red River momentarily made things interesting when Trevor Berg caught a 15-yard touchdown pass with 8:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.

However, Mollberg responded with his final touchdown run of the game -- a 25-yarder with 4:24 to go.

The Riders' final score came with nine seconds left when Brian Lillemoen reeled in a 5-yard pass from Matt Hanson.

Lillemoen caught eight passes for 93 yards, while Hanson finished 18-for-35 for 163 yards with three interceptions. Johnstone ended with 73 yards on 23 carries.

"That was by far our best defensive performance of the year," Motschenbacher said.

The Lakers, who won their fourth straight game, improved to 4-2. Red River, which lost its third straight game, dropped to 4-3.

Tom Miller
Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department for the past 10 years. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 
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