MHS gridders topple Toppers in season opener
Despite being plagued by a nagging turnover bug, the Bluejay football squad pulled out a convincing 31-7 win at Onalaska Friday night, in their 2014 season debut.
Running back Mason Reinhardt punched in the first score of the game on a goal line plunge at the 1:11 mark in the first quarter. The shifty senior followed up with another scoring run midway through the second, this time from four yards out. A second failed conversion run set the Jays up with a comfortable 12-0 lead.
The Hilltoppers would finally find an answer with 4:29 left in the first half, when Alex Gumz snapped off a 14 yard scoring scamper. The Jays nearly met disaster in the closing seconds of the half when rookie quarterback Drew Hoff lost the football on a fumble. Onalaska recovered, but fortunately the clock would defy the Toppers, and Merrill would head into the half gripping a 12-7 lead.
The relentless Bluejay ground assault would continue firing on all cylinders in the second half, as fullback Wyatt Strombom took a 5 yard scoring plunge in the closing seconds of the third. Reinhardt sealed the deal for Merrill with his third score of the game late in the fourth. Trey Stevenson’s extra point iced the cake.
Offensively, the Jays rolled up 398 total yards; 340 stemming from the ground attack.
Reinhardt sliced and cut his way to 118 yards on just 18 carries. Strombom also broke the 100 yard barrier with 104 on 22 touches.
“We hit them but then we couldn’t take them to the ground all the time” said Onalaska Linebacker Cody Hougom in a post-game interview with the La Crosse Tribune Friday night. “There were a lot of missed tackles”
“Mason had a great night” adds Merrill head coach Nick Sturm.
“He is a tough hard runner who plays with excellent vision and often makes the first defender miss. His work ethic sets him apart from many.”
Hoff completed 6 of 11 through the air for 58 yards. Senior receiver Jake Anderson proved a formidable target for Hoff as he snagged four catches for 46 yards. Senior Chaz Mootz picked up a catch for 14 yards, respectively.
Despite four turnovers (2 fumbles, 2 picks), the young Bluejay defense stood firm in smothering each and every conversion effort from the ‘Toppers. In addition, they allowed just 192 yards and 11 first downs from the Hilltopper no-huddle offense.
“Onalaska ran both the 3-4 and 3-3 defense” Sturm says. “We had been preparing for both fronts in fall camp. We also ran a lot of no huddle tempo ourselves to prepare the defense. I don’t think it affected us much.”
Friday night’s win marks three in a row in the series with the Hilltoppers. Last season, the Jays thwarted them 43-19 at Jay Stadium and shut them out 29-0 on the Toppers home turf in 2012.
On Friday, the Jays will head north for a bout with the Superior Spartans (0-1) who took one on the chin last week from Hopkins, MN (37-14). The last time the Jays and Spartans met was in 2011 when Superior slipped away from Jay Stadium with a 26-25 win. Kickoff is set for 7 PM Friday evening at Superior High School.