Shorthanded Pirates fall to Pillager, 30-6, for third straight loss
The play was days in the making.
From watching film, the Crookston football team knew that Pillager was quick to bail and run downfield on kickoffs. If the timing was right, the Pirates saw a perfect opportunity to attempt an onside kick.
That opportunity came with the Pirates kicking to begin the second half, down 16-0 and in precious need of a spark. Coach Scott Butt gave the signal to Jake Erickson.
"Jake's a pretty darn good kicker, and Jake can do that," Butt said. "He's such a good athlete, he was able to dribble that and then chase it and go get it."
That's just what the freshman did, placing a perfect ball and plunging on it at midfield. Crookston had life.
The momentum didn't last, as the Pirates lost a fumbled snap three plays later and went on to fall to the Huskies, 30-6, Friday night in their final home regular-season game. But Erickson's onside was representative of the feistiness with which Butt thought his team played.
"From top to bottom, I thought all our kids just stepped up and played extremely hard," Butt said. "They didn't give up. ... We got some things to improve on, no doubt in my mind, but we did a lot of good things and our kids played to the end."
The mood was a stark contrast to the pall that lingered at Ed Widseth Field last Friday night after Crookston (1-3) fell to Otter Tail Central, 32-0. Not only were the Pirates thoroughly beat up, they lost several keystones: starting linemen Brooks Butt (Jr.) and Cade DeLeon (Jr.) went down with injuries, as did senior quarterback Easton Tangquist.
Butt, DeLeon and Tangquist were all out Friday, as was running back Jacob Hesby (Jr.). So Crookston needed to rely on a host of younger players: Layten Fuentes (So.) at center, Clay Hanson (Fr.) at guard, Hunter Knutson (So.) at fullback and Gunnar Gunderson (Jr.) behind center.
"Our team really rallied around the guys that were in the game," Butt said. "Everybody felt like they needed to do something to help win the game. ... We were a tight unit tonight."
Last week, the Pirates put the ball on the ground 10 times, losing six fumbles. Friday, they were the ones forcing them. Pillager (2-2) drove to the 14-yard line on its first possession, but Jaren Bailey (So.) made a touchdown-saving tackle, stripping the ball and falling on it in the process.
The Huskies also fumbled on their next two drives, both of which were recovered by Zach Brown. On his second, the senior cornerback had nothing but green grass ahead of him, but was caught from behind and settled for a 63-yard return to put Crookston at the 7-yard line.
The Pirates still had a golden chance to score their first offensive touchdown since their Oct. 3 win over Roseau. But their offensive struggles persisted, as they gained just four yards in four plays. The Huskies promptly went 97 yards in the other direction, scoring on a 55-yard dash by Griffin Decker.
Decker ran for 129 yards and two scores, doing much of his damage on an inside toss play that gave Crookston fits all night. It was the same play Pillager ran on both of its first-half touchdowns — the second of which was a 1-yard Decker run with a minute before halftime.
But after a slow start, Ethan Boll (So.) began to match Decker's production. He broke a 31-yard run down the sideline — the Pirates' longest play from scrimmage this season — late in the second, and racked up a season-high 110 yards for the night.
Boll helped Crookston drive late in the third quarter, but it was Gunderson that finished the job. On the first play of the fourth quarter, he dropped back to pass on 4th-and-17. Protection broke down, and Gunderson stepped up in the pocket to escape before realizing there was no Husky near him. He surged through open field, dancing to the pylon for a 24-yard touchdown scramble.
"He did a really nice job of just reading what he had and not panicking," Butt said.
Pillager finished things off with its own quarterback-run game, though. Blake Clark broke several tackles on a sneak which turned into a 50-yard touchdown, and ran in a second score, this time from closer range, just three minutes later.
Even after those late, backbreaking touchdowns that doomed Crookston to a third straight loss, Butt gathered his team in the end zone after the clock hit zeroes. He told the Pirates nothing except that he was proud.
"Were we outmanned? Yeah. But we hung together and stayed together," he said. "... We proved to ourselves that we weren't scared."
UP NEXT: The Pirates are scheduled to head to Hawley on Friday, Nov. 6 to take on the Nuggets (2-1). Hawley's game against Breckenridge Friday night was cancelled due to the Nuggets having COVID-19 concerns, per the Wahpeton Daily News. As of now, next Friday's game is still listed on the Region 8 and Heart Of Lakes Conference websites.
Hawley, normally among the strongest teams in Section 8AA, was in rebuild mode last season, going 0-9 the year after a 9-2 season. Crookston took advantage, winning last year's matchup 25-17 in Hawley for its first win of the season.
The Nuggets and Pirates have played one common opponent: Roseau. Hawley beat the Rams 28-14 in Hawley on Oct. 9.
Pillager hosts West Central Area/Ashby (3-2) next Friday.
9:42 second quarter (Pillager): Griffin Decker 55-yard run (Hunter Gjovik run)
0:50 second quarter (Pillager): Griffin Decker 1-yard run (Quintin Laveau run)
11:48 fourth quarter (Crookston): Gunnar Gunderson 24-yard run (run failed)
10:58 fourth quarter (Pillager): Blake Clark 50-yard run (pass failed)
8:17 fourth quarter (Pillager): Blake Clark 3-yard run (Hunter Gjovik run)
- Crookston: Gunnar Gunderson 1-4, 12 yards
- Pillager: Blake Clark 4-5, 27 yards
- Crookston: Ethan Boll 20-110, Gunnar Gunderson 22-33-1, Hunter Knutson 2-2, Team 3-(-6)
- Pillager: Griffin Decker 16-129-2, Blake Clark 4-62-2, Quintin Laveau 6-36, Hunter Gjovik 7-34, Jacob Dixon 2-18, Hunter Carlson 1-15, Cyle Westman 1-8, Drew Berent 1-3, Team 2-(-24)
- Crookston: Alex Longoria 1-12
- Pillager: Cole Hiltner 1-13, AJ Gratke 1-8, Hunter Gjovik 1-3, Quintin Laveau 1-3
- Crookston: Ethan Boll 6 tackles (1 TFL, 1 FR), Jack Doda 5, Alex Longoria 3, Jaxon Wang 2.5 (0.5 TFL), Ashton Larson 2 (0.5 TFL), Clay Hanson 2, Gunnar Gunderson 2, Jacob Miller 2, Zach Brown 1.5 (2 FR), Braxton Volker 1, Cade Coauette 1, Hunter Knutson 1, Jaren Bailey 1 (1 FR), Layten Fuentes 1, Tatum Lubinski 1, Greg Gonzalez 0.5, Omar Petithomme 0.5 (0.5 TFL)
- Total yardage: Crookston 151, Pillager 308
- First downs: Crookston 5, Pillager 15
- Third-down conversions: Crookston 1-13, Pillager 1-5
- Fourth-down conversions: Crookston 2-7, Pillager 2-3
- Punting: Crookston 3-51, Pillager 1-12
- Penalties: Crookston 6-40, Pillager 3-15
- Turnovers: Crookston 1 fumble lost, Pillager 4 fumbles lost
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