Merrill gridmen scale the Hilltoppers
The Bluejays have been seeking a ‘clean’ game and although that flawless archetype can never be fully attained, they approached their ideal in Friday’s 29-0 gridiron thumping of Onalaska.
“It was a much cleaner game this week,” Merrill coach Nick Sturm said. “There weren’t a lot of mental errors. We’re improving each week and as long as we do that we’ll be all right.
“We had a couple of mistakes where they could have been real big plays, but you’re never going to have a perfect game.”
A three-hour bus ride isn’t usually conducive to a team’s best performances, but in this case it worked. MHS jumped out to a 15-0 lead in the first quarter after solid defense and a pair of botched punt snaps.
“I was proud of them considering the long bus ride,” Sturm said. “I didn’t know if they would be able to show up and play that well right away.
“It’s nice to get up early, especially after a long road trip, playing an unfamiliar opponent, to give our kids some confidence.
“They had some poor snaps and we were lucky to get a hold of them. That’s why special teams are so critical. Rudimentary punt snaps seem like they would be automatic.”
The Jays then ratcheted up the pressure with a 70-yard drive that burned much of the second quarter, capped by Matt Rekowski’s 3-yard blast.
“We chewed up a lot of clock and kept their defense on their heels,” Sturm noted. “Any time you can control the ball like that and keep your defense off the field is great.”
MHS built on its 22-0 lead with a score with 2:40 left in the third quarter. Rekowski punched it in from four yards out and Nick Peterson kicked his second consecutive PAT.
The young Bluejay squad improved to 4-2 overall with their first shut-out of the season while staying at 3-2 in the GNC Football Conference under first-year coach Sturm.
“They are believing in themselves,” Sturm said. “Our goal as coaches is just keeping them working hard and doing the little things right.
“They’re picking stuff up quick. Maybe because of the way they are progressing, we can add some things with our offense, defense and special teams.”
The Bluejays defense held Onalaska to 190 yards of total offense, 92 yards of rushing and 98 passing. The latter stat was especially impressive.
“Defensively we played very well,” Sturm said. “We were a little concerned with their ability to throw the ball. They have a couple of decent athletes on the edge, but our defensive backfield was able to keep them contained. The last couple of games they had put a lot of pressure on teams throwing the ball. We prepped our kids a lot for that.
“We felt like our linebackers Matt (Rekowski) and Ben (Hintze) had very good games in the run game and Tyler Schmidt created some havoc coming off the edge. Nick Mootz had some nice breaks on the ball at cornerback.”
In the meantime, the Merrill offense piled up 275 yards, all on the ground. MHS also built a 17-7 edge in first downs with several long drives.
“We did some nice things offensively,” Sturm said. “Alex Klug had probably his best game running at fullback. He was able to carry a number of defenders with him.
“Our offensive line in some instances was quite dominant and in some instances we saw where they need some help.”
Klug finished with 119 yards on 21 carries and scored a 3-yard TD with 3:45 left in the first quarter. Klug also recovered both errant punt snaps, falling on the first one that set up a 23-yard Peterson field goal just 3:22 into the game. He scooped up the second and dashed 25 yards for a score, with 6:17 left in the first.
Inflating the rushing totals were: Peterson (9-78); Nick Hoffmann (8-30); Wyatt Strombom (5-22); Rekowski (3-11, 2 TD); Brandon Bartz (1-9); and Trey Stevenson (1-6).
Peterson missed on all three of his passing attempts.
Defensive contributions came from: Hintze (6 solos, 5 assists, 1 FR); Eric Ball (7 s, 2 a, 2 PBU); Schmidt (6 s, 2 TFL); Rekowski (4 s, 2 a, 1 sack); Grunenwald (4 s, 1 int.); Klug (1 s, 3 a, 1 TFL, 2 FR [1 TD]); Brandon Bartz 3 s, 2 a); Mootz (3 PBU): Brian Stockowitz (1 s, 1 a, 1 PBU); Myles Nofsinger (1 a, 1 sa); Austin Bonnell (1 s, 1 a); Gabe Nelles (2 a); Dakota Ress (1 TFL).
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