This Bluejay varsity football squad has undoubtedly experienced their share of highs and lows this season. From a sobering 50-20 loss to Superior in their season opener, to three consecutive defensive shutouts to follow, the guys have seen both ends of the spectrum.
Last week, the Jays were reeled in a bit after a good dose of physical football – GNC style – at Medford, pulling off the 19-12 win in the closing minutes.
Head coach Nick Sturm was cognizant of this when he stated “I think our team grew up a bit, especially our defense.”
When discussing the type of physical, smash-mouth style of football the guys saw at Medford, Sturm segued into discussing Saturday’s homecoming bout with 4-1 Antigo.
“They will bring a very similar look to Medford. Both teams are well-coached and bring a very physical brand of football to the field. Antigo is built to run the football and run it well. The winner on Saturday will execute and make plays when they have opportunity.”
As fate would have it, the Red Robins would go on to underline and boldface Sturm’s words, dunking the Jays 14-0 in a battle of the unbeatens.
Following a scoreless first quarter, Antigo landed their first heavy blow early in the 2nd when running back Max Nowinsky bolted through the middle of the Bluejay defense and cracked it right for a 23 yard scoring run.
After struggling to advance in their early possessions, the Merrill offense showed some shuffle in their step following the Red Robin score.
Starting from their own 33 yard line, shifty running back Austin Reissman and his turbo-charged comrade Nevada Laabs stretched the Red Robin defensive perimeter for a couple of first downs. Senior quarterback Drew Hoff followed up with a keeper behind a powerful pancake block from senior left guard Collin Zoellner, and managed to take it 21 yards before being met by a pack of Antigo defenders.
Slowed, but far from down, Hoff put his shoulder to the wheel with an entourage of blockers and mustered another 8 yards, before finally being wrestled down at the Antigo 38.
Unfortunately, the once high-octane Bluejay offense would sputter once again and be forced to punt.
Stalwart defense and missed opportunities would be the theme through the remainder of the first half and into the second half as the two GNC heavy weights continued to battle for ground in the perennial War on 64.
Yet another golden opportunity for the Jays to tie it up presented itself midway through the fourth.
Following another stellar punt from the Red Robins, the guys found themselves starting off deep in their own territory. Following a 12-yard run by Laabs for a first down and four consecutive completions from Hoff, the ball was about to be marked at the Merrill 39 yard line before a string of Antigo penalties set the Jays up on the Red Robin 35.
On 1st and 10, Hoff connected with Reissmann on a textbook tip-toe catch on the Bluejay sideline, only to have it nullified by a holding call.
The penalty would prove to swipe the wind from the Bluejays’ sails as the drive stalled and the punt team took the field.
With just 2:26 left in the game on the Red Robin ground game moving the ball methodically down field, Nowinsky broke another 17 yard run in very similar fashion to his first, which would ultimately put the game away.
“We didn’t perform to our expectations or our ability,” commented an obviously disappointed coach Sturm. “We lacked focus on both sides of the ball, our defense didn’t recover and our offense didn’t move anyone off the ball. We struggled to make good reads and on nearly every play there was one or two athletes who didn’t execute. Antigo was just the mentally and physically tougher team. You’re just not going to beat a good football team when you make the types of mistakes we did.”
AGO: 0 7 0 7-14
MRL: 0 0 0 0-0
Passing: Drew Hoff 7/15, 48 yds. Rushing: Nevada Laabs: 11/61; Austin Reissmann: 4/27; Drew Hoff: 5/19; Braeden Dorn: 4/13; Jake Collinsworth: 6/10. Receiving: Reissmann: 3/24; Scott Wallace 2/20; Laabs 1/8; Collinsworth 1/4; Pike 1/3. Defense: Ben Tabor (9s, 1a); Collinsworth (7s, 2a); Christian Kleinschmidt: (5s, TFL, FF); Elijah Emmer (4s, 1a); Ty Belfiori (1a, 2TFL, sack); Zach Mootz (3s, FR); Troy Pike (2s, 1a, FC).