PILLAGER — It happened again.
Five Pine River-Backus Tigers’ turnovers helped send the top-seeded and sixth-ranked Pillager Huskies to the Section 6-1A championship game for the first time since 2002.
Pillager turned those five turnovers into 20 points leading to a 51-7 victory over the fifth-seeded Tigers Saturday.
Pillager forced a fumble on PR-B’s opening drive. Four plays later Jeff Flickinger scored on a 34-yard run.
A 56-yard touchdown pass from Connor Uselman to Devrin House on Pillager’s next possession made it 12-0.
House caught another pass, but this time it was thrown by PR-B’s Beau Howard. He returned it to the Tigers’ 25. One play later, Flickinger scored again for a 20-0 first quarter lead.
“We knew coming in that we would have to play a clean game and that’s the first thing we did with the first drive — we turn it over,” said PR-B head coach Tom Demars. “At times we moved the ball in the first half and got some first downs and did a few decent things but it wasn’t consistent. Overall, they were just more athletic. We had a hard time keeping up.”
Flickinger, a senior running back, carried the ball just four times for 68 yards. Pillager ran just six offensive plays in the first quarter.
“I think our offensive line is coming around,” said Pillager head coach Lowell Scearcy. “Four of our lineman played together last year and one of them played as a sophomore. I don’t want to use a cliche like gel as a unit, but they’ve been together for awhile.
“They’re not big. We gave up a lot of size (Saturday), but they have gotten to the point where they are changing their line calls on their own.”
The Tigers opened the second half with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Howard to Brandon Mager. That was all the offensive explosion the Tigers would produce as Pillager held PR-B to 213 yards on 48 plays. Pillager answered PR-B’s score with a 7-play, 80-yard drive capped off by an Uselman’s 3-yard sneak. Devin Strack’s 48-yard sprint and Uselman’s 24-yard pass to Travis Richards set up the scoring play.
Pillager picked up a safety and then scored again right before the half when Uselman hit House for 5 yards to make it 38-7 at the half. Uselman was 6-of-7 passing for 112 yards and the two touchdowns.
“Connor didn’t throw a pass in our last game so it was nice to get him involved,” Scearcy said. “We knew this was going to be a tough game. I laid awake most of the night thinking about this game. I want to congratulate Pine River because they have a nice ball club and they had a really good year.
“I know they’re a good team and things just happened to them with that early fumble. The same thing happened at their place. I kind of feel bad for them because they had some tough luck, but they have some very good players.”
Richards scored on a 17-yard run in the third quarter and after a Brandon Eppeisheimer interception, Strack, who led the Tigers with 116 rushing yards, capped off the scoring with a 50-yard touchdown run.
“We have to clean up our penalties,” said Scearcy about Pillager’s 52 yards of penalties. “Our penalties were a real problem to us and we have to address that before we play again.”
Adam Manlick and Gavin Holsapple also collected interceptions for the 9-1 Huskies, who defeated PR-B 42-0 during the regular season. The Tigers were led by Drey Loge’s 67 yards rushing on 14 carries. PR-B finished the season 6-4.
“We lost two or three kids with injuries this year and we didn’t have much depth to start with,” said Demars. “Our 12, 13 maybe 14 guys had to play every snap so we felt good about getting by Royalton (PR-B upset Royalton 20-8 Oct. 23) and playing today.”
Pine River-Backus 0 7 0 0 — 7
Pillager 20 18 13 0 — 51
Pill-Jeff Flickinger 34 run (kick failed) 8:19
Pill-Devrin House 50 pass from Connor Uselman (run failed) 6:26
Pill-Flickinger 24 run (Travis Richards run) 3:20
PRB-Brandon Mager 44 pass from Beau Howard (Kurt Kent kick) 11:51
Pill-Uselman 3 run (Richards run) 8:06
Pill-Safety Howard tackled in end zone 1:39
Pill-House 5 pass from Uselman (Richards run) 33.4
Pill-Richards 17 run (Cherokee DeLeon kick) 6:42
Pill-Devin Strack 50 run (kick failed) 2:13
Rushes-yards: Pill 30-349; PRB 34-141
Pass comp-att-int-yds: Pill 6-7-0-112; PRB 4-15-4-72
Total offense: Pill 37-461; PRB 49-213
Rushing: Pill-Devin Strack 7-116, Travis Richards 7-81, Jeff Flickinger 4-68, Connor Uselman 2-8, Dezmond Berndt 3-22, Beau Van Vickle 4-40, Hunter Haggerty 3-14; PRB-Drey Loge 14-67, Jared Adkins 9-39, Beau Howard 10-33, Trevon Pederson 1-2
Passing: Pill-Uselman 6-7-112; PRB-Howard 4-11-72, Jace Loge 0-1-0, Cody Mager 0-3-0
Receiving: Pill-Strack 3-27, Devrin House 2-61, Richards 1-24; PRB-Brandon Mager 2-51, Adkins 1-15, Drey Loge 1-8