PINE RIVER -- Nick Keefe isn't the biggest player on the Pine River-Backus Tigers football team, but he might be the most important.
Keefe is the Tigers' starting quarterback, free safety, holder on extra points, kick and punt returner and signal caller on punts. Unless the score dictates, the senior never comes off the field.
"On kickoffs, I do," said Keefe about getting a break during the game. "If we were to switch and just play one way it wouldn't be really fun. We've been playing both ways since we were young. Watching other people out on the field going at it isn't as fun as being out there and doing it yourself."
His many skills were in full bloom against Bagley Sept. 15. Keefe rushed the ball six times for 72 yards and two touchdowns. He threw for 49 yards on 3-of-4 passing and two touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff, following a safety, 55 yards for another touchdown.
This is his second year as the starting quarterback, his first as starting free safety (he started at cornerback the last two years). His knowledge of the game and leadership ability has made PR-B a force in the North Star Conference as well as Section 8, Class 3A again this year.
"He makes it known to kids when they're doing a good job and when they're messing up," said Tigers head coach Randy Schwegel. "He's a positive kid, a very competitive kid.
"When he's on the field playing, he plays as hard as he can no matter what the score is. He doesn't like coming out of the game."
The flexibility that Keefe gives the Tigers' offense is a luxury many coaches wished they had. As he demonstrated against Bagley, the 5-foot-9, 160-pound third-year starter has the ability to throw the ball and is quick when he's running it. PR-B hasn't thrown much this year, because they haven't needed to, but the fact that he can, opens things up for the Tigers.
"We run a lot of different things offensively," said Schwegel, "Being around for three years (Keefe) knows the offense. He knows what we expect.
"He and I have an understanding of what I want from him and he brings that to the game every week. He doesn't go out of the boundaries. He knows his job and he does it well. A lot of that is from time. You have to go out there and experience it and he has."
The competitive fire that keeps Keefe going comes from his team and its desire to finally get to the state tournament.
"It runs with the whole team," said Keefe. "Everyone wants to win. You're not going to sit there and not care whether you win or lose."
The biggest asset for Keefe is his versatility. He's a jack-of-all-trades player on the field. When asked if he ever came out of the game, Schwegel paused and simply said "No."
"(Against Bagley) we gave him a break on defense but if we're in a game that's close he doesn't come off and he likes it that way," said Schwegel. "If you lose a kid that does that many things, you're not going to replace him with one kid.
"You have to find a bunch of players to pick up all those different spots. He's unbelievably valuable to us. He may not graduate because we need him again next year. No, he's a good student."
Other notable performances
Cross country -- Sam Anderson of Crosby-Ironton won the Pequot Lakes Invitational Sept. 11 with a time of 17:06.
Football -- Levi Baer of Aitkin returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in a 53-21 win over Onamia Sept. 14.
Justin Biebighauser of Pequot Lakes rushed 14 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned an interception for a touchdown in a 43-22 win over Lake of the Woods Sept. 14.
Matt Royer of Pequot Lakes rushed for 105 yards on seven carries and threw for 77 yards and a touchdown in a 43-22 win over Lake of the Woods Sept. 14.
Tony Mason of Pillager scored four touchdowns and rushed for 141 yards on six carries in a 62-7 win over Royalton Sept. 14.
Steve Bethel of Pillager rushed 23 times for 149 yards and a score in a 62-7 win over Royalton Sept. 14.
Craig Luberts of Pierz ran for 128 yards on 23 carries in a 21-7 win over Holdingford Sept. 14.
Dan Saehr of Pierz rushed for one touchdown and threw two more in a 21-7 win over Holdingford Sept. 14.
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