Bluejays put on a rousing show for Homecoming crowd
Saturday’s Homecoming game didn’t exactly start out as a blooming?? success.
The Bluejay boys fumbled away their first two possessions, the second at their own five yard line that immediately led to an Ashland touchdown.
It turns out that was practically the only way the Oredockers could stop Merrill.
The Jays ran up 325 yards on their way to a 49-12 lead by the middle of the fourth quarter, and held on for a 49-18 triumph.
“We had a quite a few mental errors and a few physical mistakes with four fumbles,” Merrill coach Nick Sturm said. “We can’t do that against better competition or we’ll be in trouble. But I felt we executed and did a lot of good things.
“We stopped ourselves when we fumbled the ball, but otherwise we moved the ball. And defensively, when we were disciplined, they couldn’t move the ball. So overall it was a pretty solid win.”
Merrill improved to 3-2 on the season while the Oredockers dropped to 1-4. The end result was a group of happy MHS campers.
“You could tell they were excited,” Sturm said. “It was a big deal. I talked to one of the boys (Sunday), and he was still on a high. They’re in a good state. They know they’re doing well, but they know they have to get better.
“We’ve seen pretty consistently that the kids are improving as a team.”
Ashland had taken a 6-0 lead after ?????’s five-yard rush, but they Jays reeled off 35 unanswered points before halftime.
“The kids didn’t quit,” Sturm said. “They kept battling and competing. What you want to know is when things don’t look good are they going to hand in their chips, or are they going to keep battling?”
In this case, things only momentarily looked bleak, since Brandon Bartz ripped off an 82-yard TD run on the ensuing kickoff. Nick Peterson’s booming kick gave the Jays a 7-6 lead.
“On film, you could see we’ve been close (to a long kickoff return),” Sturm said. “Either the wedge missed one guy, or the returner didn’t make the right cut off the wedge. This time they put it together and, boom, we were gone. Special teams had a big day.”
Merrill got the ball back on Ty Grunenwald’s interception and put together a 50-yard drive capped by a one-yard Alex Klug blast. The quarter ended with Merrill holding a 13-7 lead, after a bad snap killed the PAT attempt.
Then special teams took over. Peterson kicked a straight-ahead onside kick and pounced on it for Merrill’s next possession. Seven runs later, Peterson dashed 19 yards for the score on the first play of the second quarter. Matt Rekowski bulled for the two-point try.
Peterson boomed the kick-off into the end zone and two penalties and a Tyler Schmidt tackle for a loss left Ashland with a 4th-and-15 at its own 15. Merrill’s Schmidt blocked the punt and Klug dove on it in the end zone for a score.
The Jays forced a 3-and-out, and Grunenwald returned the punt to the Oredocker 45. Two plays later, Peterson’s 41-yard TD sprint was called back for a hold and Klug’s first-down reception was nullified for an ineligible receiver downfield. But Peterson fired a bomb to Jake Anderson for a 47-yard score and 35-6 advantage with 6:19 to go to halftime.
Ashland would cut it to 35-12 with a 41-yard reverse on 3rd-and-14 with 1:10 left.
The Oredockers also converted a 3rd-and-17 situation to start the second half with a screen pass, and cut it to 35-18 with a 55-yard wrap-around draw on the next play. Bartz broke up the two-point pass try with a diving swat.
But Merrill answered with a 6-play, 73-yard drive capped by Klug’s 2-yard blast with 7:58 left in the third, making it 42-18. Peterson chewed up big yards with a 41-yard keeper.
The Jays saved a final 13-play, 95-yard drive for the middle of the fourth, started by a Nick Mootz interception. Rekowski broke three tackles on a 20-yard blast, and Peterson and Schmidt had power runs before Klug capped it from 3 yards out.
Ashland tried to score one more time, but a strong showing from Merrill’s subs stopped them half way.
“A lot of kids got to play at the end,” Sturm said. “That’s nice because the kids have their families there, and some family members came a long way. They performed well.”
This was Sturm’s first Homecoming experience, Merrill style, and he noted the differences.
“It was really neat; quite a fun experience,” he said. “Merrill makes quite a big deal out of Homecoming, far more than other communities. That’s great for a football coach. I could tell the kids were really focused and wanted to perform well.”
Peterson (13-134, 10.3 ypc) led in rushing yards, while 4 TD’s from Klug (18-98) blew open the scoring. Rekowski (4-31), Grunennwald (3-27), Nick Hoffmann (3-13 and Schmidt (2-22) ran Merrill’s total to 325 yards.
Peterson completed 1-of-4 passes for 48 yards to Jake Anderson (TD).
“Alex had one of his better games other than the fumble,” Sturm said. “Nick (Peterson) continues to perform well. Our offensive line really came off the ball. Eli (Knoblock) and Colton (Bloch) really had solid games
Coming up big on defense were: Ben Hintze (10 solos, 2 assists, 1 TFL, 1 FR); Schmidt (7 s, 1 a, 3 TFL, 1 FR); Brian Stockowitz (5 s, 1 a, 3 TFL, 1 int); Rekowski (5 s, 2 a); Grunenwald (4 s, 1 a, 1 int); James Nohr (3 s, 2 a); Klug (2 s, 1 FR, 1 PBU); Cole Rajek (3 s, 1 a); Cole Sczygelski (4 s); Eric Ball (3 s); Jared Mootz (2 s); Nick Mootz (1 a, 1 PBU, 1 int); Austin Bonnell (2 s, 1 a).
“Hintze and Rekowski played really well, Schmidt as well,” Sturm said. “Brian Stockowitz set the edge.”
The Bluejays improved to 3-2 overall and 3-1 in the GNC Football Conference, while Ashland fell to 1-4 and 0-3.
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