Jays beat down Red Robins, but still need late save to win
The MHS football team controlled the statistical battle and line of scrimmage all night, and yet there was Antigo driving for the tying score in the final minutes of Friday’s game.
But rather than flinch as the Red Robins finally put together a solid drive, the Bluejays shut it down in heroic fashion to preserve a 21-14 triumph.
First, Kyle Kubichek spun Nico Fulsom in the air as he seemed destined to score on a 4-yard sprint, and Fulsom landed partially over the line, but with the ball still on the field. After an illegal motion penalty pushed Antigo behind the five, Brandon Folta and Matt Haffemann put pressure on quarterback Ivan Flannery, and Sam Arneson stepped in front of his fourth-down pass for a critical interception. One first down later and the Bluejays were taking a knee after the snap.
“It was very exciting, no doubt,” MHS coach Tom Tourtillott said. “The fans sure got their money’s worth. Any time you beat Antigo in anything, it’s a big win.
“When they drove the ball, I was very pleased with the way the kids rose to the occasion. But I had all the confidence in the world our offense could drive the ball if we needed to.
“If you look at the final stats, it should have been more than seven points. But you know what, a win is a win.”
Merrill held a 359-254 margin in total offense and a huge 286-96 difference in rushing yards.
“Holding Antigo under 100 yards rushing was huge,” Tourtillott said. “I’d say it’s been quite a few years since that’s happened. But I give Antigo credit for mixing it up. We had a few mental breakdowns and you can’t do that with a quality opponent.
“I give Antigo credit. They had six starters out with injury and illness, and other kids stepped up and kept it close. I would not be surprised to see them again in the playoffs.”
The Red Robins had gained just 190 yards prior to their final drive, but Flanney completed 68- and 75-yard bombs to twice tie the score. On the second, he lofted the ball high and deep just over a hard-charging Folta.
Merrill had worked for its scores. After putting together a 42-yard drive on the opening drive that ended on a jump-route interception, quarterback/middle linebacker Arneson made up for it by hammering the running back in the hole on a fourth-and-one play near midfield. Big first-down runs by Arneson and Kubichek set up Kubi’s seven-yard blast up the open middle.
Three plays from scrimmage later, Flannery hit Fulsom with the 68-yard strike on 3rd-and-8.
The Jays answered with another drive, and on 3rd-and-5 from the Antigo 11, Matt Woller skyed to tip a ball over a defender and into the arms of Zach Ament for the 14-7 lead with 10:10 to the half.
The Red Robin’s second bomb came on their first play from scrimmage of the second half when Flannery hit Andreas Ezer.
Once again the Jays answered with a prolonged drive, this one for 80 yards. Austin Voigt picked up 56 of them on 6 carries, and Kubi converted a critical 4th-and-5 with a run up the middle and a took a 3rd-and-goal screen from the 8 to the one. With the Antigo sideline screaming, ‘Watch the sneak,’ the 6′ 4″, 241-pound Arneson latched onto the heels of 302-pound center Matt Haffemann-flanked by guards Nick Leskey (234 pounds) and Alex Ruge (265)-and scored the winning TD.
Arneson led all rushers with 127 on 23 carries, and was backed up by Kubi (14-98) and Voigt (10-57). Arneson completed 5-of-7 passes for 73 yards to Kubi (2-35), Jordan Burton (2-27) and Ament (1-11).
Defensive contributions were turned in by: Zach Ament (5 solo, 1 assist), Arneson (3 s, 7 a, 1 int), Jordan Burton (4 s, 2 a) and Michael Koppelman (3 s, 2 a, 1 TFL).
Merrill improved to 3-0 with the victory, all of them non-conference wins.
“We’re very pleased with a 3-0 start, but next (game) they start counting for sure,” Tourtillott said. “We’ve got to get at least three wins in the Valley to be playoff eligible. We just want to continue to improve every week and take care of business.”