Bluejay gridmen run roughshod on Thunderbirds
Turnovers and penalties kept winless Lakeland within a 7-7 tie of the Merrill football team with the first half of Friday’s road game winding down.
But the Bluejays mounted a 71-yard drive before intermission and never looked back.
Shortly after Merrill raced 90 yards in the opening two minutes of the second half, the T-Birds would cut it to 20-14.
The MHS boys would completely take charge from there, running the final tally to 35-14.
“It was a good win,” Merrill coach Nick Sturm said. “Good to gain some confidence and have the kids feel good about themselves. They were excited. Overall, they’re gaining confidence.
“We could run the ball. We controlled the line of scrimmage.
“Defensively, they did some things on offense that they hadn’t shown before. They played a kid that hadn’t played this year and he caused some problems outside.”
The Bluejays definitely field a young team, but Sturm is seeing real growth.
“I think our group is starting to mature,” he said. “We’ve got a ways to go, but I’m seeing positive signs.”
It took a little time in this game to see those signs.
“We had some penalties early in the game,” Sturm said. “We weren’t really sharp. We talked about that and the kids settled down.
“Later we were able to run the ball and put some pressure on that team.”
One way the Jays applied that pressure was ending T-Bird possessions with turnovers. Ty Grunenwald and Brian Stockowitz both came up with interceptions, and Dakota Ress caused two fumbles and recovered one of them.
Nick Hoffmann carried 17 yards for the TD on a 4th-and-12 early in the fourth quarter. Lakeland answered with a drive to the MHS 25, but the Bluejays held and ground out the clock.
“Nick really stood out,” Sturm said. He was a tough kid to take down. Nick Peterson had a very good game and Alex Klug was tough at fullback.”
Peterson (16-144, 9.0 ypc) paced the rushing attack, and Hoffmann (12-83, TD), Klug (13-58, TD), Grunenwald (4-44) and Tyler Schmidt (5-21, 3 TD) pushed it to 351 yards.
Peterson completed 3-of-5 passes for 21 yards to Jake Anderson (1-9), Grunenwald (1-8) and Klug (1-4).
Several players made big contributions on defense, including Ben Hintze (12 solos, 4 assists, 1 TFL); Ress (7 s, 3 TFL, 2 FC, 1 FR); Matt Rekowski (7 s, 4 a); Grunenwald (9 s, 1 int); Stockowitz (3 s, 1 TFL, 1 int); Schmidt (3 s, 3 a); Klug (5 s); Jared Mootz (2 s); Austin Bonnell (1 s, 2 a); and Nick Breaman (1 s, 2 a).
“Ben had a very good game at linebacker; Matt as well,” Sturm said. “Ty played well in the secondary.”
Lakeland can be a tough venue, but not so much this time.
“They have a strong fan base, but Merrill traveled well,” Sturm said. “I don’t think our kids make a big deal between home and away. That was an hour on a bus, which is not a big deal.”
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