By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Back in November, before having major knee surgery, Michael Lewis told Maple River football coach Brian Schoneck that he'd surely be back and healthy in time for this season.
But he also had an opportunity to play for Team USA in an international fastpitch softball tournament, and that was something that might cut short his senior football season.
On Tuesday, Lewis might have played his final football game, and it hit him hard.
“The last couple years, you see your buddies who were seniors that play their final game, and you don't understand how hard it is,” Lewis said. “It's tough.”
Lewis led an impressive offensive performance as Maple River defeated New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva 33-8 in the opening round of the Section 3AA football playoffs Tuesday. Third-seeded Maple River has won six straight games with Lewis at quarterback, but he leaves Thursday for the softball tournament in Argentina.
“This was an opportunity I felt I had to take,” Lewis said. “It’s a chance to represent my country.”
A couple weeks ago, the Eagles defeated NRHEG 21-6 as the Panthers clogged the middle of the field. This time, Maple River found some running space on the outside, using speed to accumulate 164 yards on 28 carries.
“The boys up front really played well,” Schoneck said. “And Michael had a good game. He threw it pretty well, and we spread them out a little.”
Aaron Trio carried on seven of the first nine plays, finishing the opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Trio got loose on a 49-yarder around the end that made it 12-0 later in the first quarter.
In the final minute of the first quarter, Lewis, who completed his first seven passes, hooked up with Casey Decker on a 49-yard touchdown to pull away 20-0.
In the first half, Trio had 105 yards on 12 carries, Lewis was 7 of 9 for 126 yards, and Decker made six catches for 113 yards as the Eagles accumulated 231 yards of offense.
“New Richland played us tough a couple weeks ago so we made some adjustments,” Lewis said. “They stacked a lot of guys in the box so we tried to get outside.”
Maple River scored on its first drive of the second half, with Garrett White scoring from the 1. Backup quarterback Jay Sohre threw a 16-yard pass to Ben Larson to cap the Eagles' scoring.
NRHEG converted a 98-yard drive in the fourth quarter as Dillon Parpart scored on a 7-yard run.
Lewis was 8 of 10 for 145 yards, and Decker finished with eight receptions for 126 yards. Trio had 158 yards rushing.
For NRHEG, which had 154 yards of offense, Parpart rushed for 56 yards.
Maple River (7-2) takes on Jackson County Central or Windom Area at 3 p.m. Saturday. Lewis returns around Nov. 10, meaning the Eagles would have to reach the state tournament for him to play again.
“That would be awesome,” Lewis said. “When you get to this point, you just wish you could play one more game.”