MHS gridmen run away with latest skirmish in ?War on 64?
The Bluejay football team dealt a knockdown blow in Friday’s War on ’64 in the opening minutes, then never let Antigo off the canvas the rest of the way.
Host Merrill prevailed 27-14, and only a meaningless last-minute score by Antigo against Bluejay back-ups made it appear even that close.
“We knew it would be a tough battle, but the kids came out ready to compete every down,” MHS coach Nick Sturm said.
“They were very excited. For a lot of kids, there’s a circle in red around the date of that game because of that rivalry with Antigo. They’re very happy they came away with a victory.”
The Bluejays pounded out 365 rushing yards, including 206 from quarterback Nick Peterson on just 16 carries and 121 from fullback Alex Klug on 26.
“Nick had a lot of big runs,” Sturm said. “I really trust him to make good choices, and he sure did that game.”
Sturm gave hearty credit to his offensive line, from right tackle Seth Collins, moving left to guard Sam Skic, center Justin Bonnell, guard Connor Kleinschmidt and tackle Aaron Meyer.
“I think our offensive line is really starting to come together,” he said. “This was probably their best game. They’re starting to gain confidence in their abilities. Antigo is a big, physical team, and we knew it was going to be a battle up front.”
Both teams stalled on their initial drives, but when Antigo got the ball back for the first time, Gabe Nelles knocked the ball free from quarterback Matt Wolter on third down and Klug snatched it off the ground and raced 40+ yards for a score.
“Gabe forced it free and Alex was aware enough to instead of falling on it to scoop it up and just go,” Sturm said. “It was a heads-up play.”
The Jays forced a three-and-out, then drove 76 yards in seven plays. Aided by a huge Peterson keeper run and capped by a Klug four-yard blast, the score was 14-0 with 3:44 left in the first quarter.
“It sure helps getting up early,” Sturm said. “It gives you a lot of momentum throughout the game.”
The Jays held Antigo on four downs at the Merrill 25, and on the first play of the second quarter, Peterson broke free up the middle and sprinted 55 yards for a TD. A missed PAT kick left it 20-0.
The Red Robins responded with a 70-yard drive that finished with an 8-yard Wolter slant to Aeric Berner. Merrill was working on its own 65-yard response, but Mason Reinhardt fumbled on the Red Robin four, and Antigo immediately moved down the field with a series of passes. Nick Breaman halted it at the Jay 17 on an interception with just :21 left to intermission.
“Nick is where he needs to be and he’s taking advantage of his opportunities,” Sturm said.
A big punt pinned Merrill deep on its second possession of the second half. But the Jays rode the back of Klug up the middle, sprinkled with big gains from Peterson and Reinhardt, and Klug scored from two yards out with :33 left in the third. Trey Stevenson’s kick made it 26-7.
“I was pretty proud of the kids for a 95-yard drive,” Sturm said. “They performed, down in and down out. They kept their focus.”
Antigo would score on a 50-yard pass from Wolter to Josh Hale with just :21 left in the game, against several subs.
“The defense played a tough, physical game, and when opportunities arose, the kids took advantage,” Sturm said. “Our run defense is pretty solid. We need to shore up our coverage a little bit.”
Antigo finished with just 62 yards rushing, but Wolter had 212 passing.
“That’s unusual for them,” Sturm said. “They have a new offense and they’re still trying to find their identity.”
Reinhardt ran 7 times for 37 yards. Peterson completed 2-of-4 passes for 11 yards, both to Jake Anderson.
Keying the defense were: Ty Grunenwald (7 solos, 4 assists, 1 int., 2 PBU); Dustin Dengel (3 S, 3 A, 1.5 sacks); Klug (2 S, 1 A, 1 ER, 1 TD); Brian Stockowitz (5 S, 1 TFL); Brandon Bartz (5 S); Ben Hintze (4 S, 2 A); Nelles (2 S, .5 sa, 1 FC); Tyler Schmidt (3 S, 2 A); Breaman (1 S, 1 sa, 1 int.); Matt Rekowski (2 S, 2 A); Reinhardt (2 S, 1 A); Cole Rajek (1 S, 3 A); Wyatt Strombom (1 S, 2 A).
“Ty had his best game,” Sturm said. “He was very good in run support and pass defense.”
Merrill improved to 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the GNC Football Conference. Antigo fell to 1-2 and 1-4. Medford leads to 3-0, 4-1 and Mosinee is 2-1, 4-1. The Jays visit 0-2, 0-5 Ashland next week.
“Obviously every win is important,” Sturm said. “We just want to focus on getting better. We focus more on ourselves than we do our opponent.”