Bluejay gridmen vanquish Hodags with quick drubbing
Last year Rhinelander ruined Merrill’s chances for a three-way tie for first place in the GNC Football Conference with a 14-13 upset in Week 7 of the regular season.
The Bluejays took that pent-up frustration and fashioned an early blow-out, eventually reaching a 54-7 rout to improve to 2-1 on the season and 1-0 in the GNC.
“There was some motivation,” MHS coach Nick Sturm said. “A number of seniors mentioned something about that. They recognized we needed to get back to doing what we do. I was proud of their efforts.”
The Jays pushed it to 26-0 late in the first half before allowing the Hodags’ only points of the night on a Ryan Nehls 91-yard kickoff return. It hardly fazed Merrill, which amazingly ripped off two more TD’s in the final 35 seconds before intermission for a 40-7 lead.
They scored again in the opening minutes of the second half, before widespread replacements put up another tally in the 54-7 triumph.
“It helps when you get the ball in good territory,” Sturm said. “Our defense played very well again. Whenever you can get the ball near midfield, you’ve got a good shot at scoring. Our kids executed and made a few touchdowns.”
The Bluejays used excellent balance once again. Six different players scored touchdowns, led by quarterback Nick Peterson’s trio. They ran for 230 yards, led by Nick Hoffmann (7-85), Peterson (9-60), Mason Rein­hardt (9-52), Wyatt Strombom (6-11) and Trey Stevenson (1-11).
Peterson completed 6-of-9 passes for 81 yards and replacement Chaz Mootz hit on 2-of-4 for 37 yards. Both threw scoring strikes. Merrill punted just once.
“We were able to execute,” Sturm said. “After the first series of the second half we had our second and third group in and they were able to execute, too. That was very good.
“A lot of guys got to carry the ball. I look for balance all the time. Our goal is to take what the defense gives us. They were stacking the box inside, so we used the perimeter run game.
“It’s hard for teams to know what’s coming next and how to defend it. Our kids really bought into getting into contact and staying on their blocks. Our backs set the block up well and used them.”
The defense surrendered merely 72 rushing yards for the game and didn’t allow a completed pass.
“We have a pretty good defensive front,” Sturm said. “We’re pretty stout inside. It makes it tough for teams to run on us. Our defense as a whole had an excellent game.”
The Jays led 12-0 after the first quarter, using an 11-yard run by Reinhardt and one-yard blast by Peterson. The Jays exploded for 28 points in the second quarter, counting on Peterson’s nifty 9-yard dash with 5:07 left, Wyatt Strombom’s two-yard blast with 2:55 to go, Peterson’s 29-yard sprint with :35 remaining and Peterson’s 31-yard pass to Jake Anderson with :13 left. A Mootz interception gave Merrill the last chance, and Anderson converted it despite called interference.
“Jake made a nice catch with guys draped all over him and Nick made a nice throw,” Sturm said.
Eight quick second-half plays led to Hoffmann’s 11-yard power run TD and a 47-7 margin. The running clock, for a 35-point lead, kicked in with 8:42 left in the third.
The scoring ended on a 19-yard Mootz pass secured by a diving Alex Zettler with 9:40 left in the game.
Pushing the defense were: Jake Nohr (3 S, 3 A, 1 TFL); Alex Klug (2 S, 2 A, 1 FC, 1 BK) Tyler Schmidt (2 S, 2 A, 1 EC, 1 BK); Ben Hintze (3 S, 1 A); Cole Rajek (4 A, 1 FR); Ty Grunenwald (2 S, 2 A); Trey Stevenson (2 S, 2 TFL); Matt Rekowski (2 S, 1 A); Gabe Nelles (2 A, 1 FR); Myles Nofsinger (2 S, 1 A); Lucas Lee (1 S, 3 A); Mootz (1 A, 1 int.); Jacob Sabey (2 S); Mason Reinhardt (2 S); Hugh Rankin (1 S, 1 TFL); and Dustin Dengel (3 A).
Merrill next hits the road for an early critical match-up in Medford. The Red Raiders handed Mosinee a 20-8 loss last Friday.
“They’re very solid,” Sturm said. “Many people think Mosinee is the best in the conference. It should be a tough game. I’m excited. I think our kids are ready to go. I expect it to be a close battle.”