PREP FOOTBALL: Big plays spark ChargersWESTBROOK — Executing a nice drive in the closing minutes of the first half, after having twice capitalized on mistakes by the visiting Southwestern United Wildcats, Westbrook-Walnut Grove claimed a hard-fought, 20-6, 9-man Southern Confederacy Conference high school football victory Friday night.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WESTBROOK — Executing a nice drive in the closing minutes of the first half, after having twice capitalized on mistakes by the visiting Southwestern United Wildcats, Westbrook-Walnut Grove claimed a hard-fought, 20-6, 9-man Southern Confederacy Conference high school football victory Friday night.
The win by the Chargers — which was sparked by a pair of early big plays — improves W-WG to 4-3 with just one game remaining in the regular season.
“This was a big win for us,” declared W-WG co-head coach Carter Ross. “Our kids gutted it out and held off a hard-playing team. SWU was tough up front and stuffed our running game pretty well. We were able to exploit a few pass plays and get an early lead.”
The Wildcats churned out 245 yards on the ground and moved the chains for 13 first downs, including a pair of impressive sustained drives.
But turnovers and penalities prevented SWU from entering the end zone more than once.
Meanwhile, the Chargers scored three first-half touchdowns and were able to maintain a 14-point lead throughout a scoreless second half, which was played mainly on their end of the field — as the Wildcats ran off the majority of the plays and had superior field position.
“We did a good job against the run,” praised SWU co-head coach Jason Fisher in an understatement. “We held well on first down and second down, but gave up a few big plays on third or fourth down, which hurt.”
The Wildcats’ defense limited the Chargers to 141 yards rushing on 38 carries.
But, W-WG senior quarterback John Elzenga completed eight of 21 passes for 100 yards and running back Dana Madson fired a 27-yard touchdown strike to Shane Buchman for one of the biggest plays of the game.
“John made some nice throws for us, especially on our scoring drive late in the second quarter,” declared Ross. “Dana’s toss to Shane on the halfback pass was perfect. It was a laser right to him.”
The Wildcats only completed one pass — in 14 throws — a 12-yard gain from Matthew Soto to Justin Jass and had a pair of tosses intercepted by W-WG sophomore defensive back Tristan Joel, which ended drives.
“We moved the ball between the 20-yard lines,” exclaimed Fisher. “But we struggled to finish drives, as we ‘shot ourselves in the foot’ with turnovers or penalties.”
The two pass interceptions, along with a pair of lost fumbles and a high snap on an attempted punt were costly for the Wildcats, who have lost five games in a row and are 1-6 for the season.
Soto’s 41-yard TD run caps SWU 94-yard drive after W-WG scores first
Aided by a pair of defensive penalties on the Wildcats, W-WG moved into SWU territory on its opening drive.
Madson, a hard-running 190-pound senior, broke through a hole on the right side of the Chargers’ line and dashed 32 yards for the game’s first touchdown with 8:16 showing on the first-quarter clock.
Elzenga passed to Buchman for the two-point conversion and the Chargers had a quick, 8-0, lead.
The Wildcats fumbled on their first offensive play and Levi Bunting recovered for the Chargers.
Madson made a spectacular catch on a pass from Elzenga for an 18-yard gain and W-WG was knocking on the door again.
But, SWU’s defense held tough and stopped the Chargers at their own six-yard line.
The Wildcats then launched an 11-play, 94-yard drive —aided by a running into the punter penalty on the Chargers — which was capped by a 41-yard tackle-breaking touchdown run by Soto on the last play of the first quarter.
“That was a huge effort by SWU,” praised Ross of the Wildcats. “They stopped us at the six and then drove 94 yards for a score, changing the momentum of the game.
“Both teams played hard. This was a good football game, despite the fact that a total of 21 penalties were called.”
The Chargers stopped SWU’s two-point conversion run attempt and took a two-point edge into the second quarter.
Elzenga completed a 22-yard pass to Andy Merrick and Levi Bunting hauled in a 14-yard reception to highlight W-WG’s next series, but several strong pass rushes by SWU senior defensive end Mark Ferguson forced a couple of incompletions and the drive stalled.
The Wildcats were unable to move the ball on their next possession and faced a fourth-and-13 at their own 40.
Soto, who has done a fine job of punting for SWU this season, was unable to control the high snap from center and recovered the loose ball at the 27.
The Chargers quickly capitalized by running the halfback pass play from Madson to a wide-open Buchman and took a 14-6 with 7:25 to play in the first half.
“We had to try something different and it worked,” said Ross about the play. “It was a nice throw by Dana, no doubt about it.”
Joel came up with the first of his two pass interceptions on SWU’s next possession, swiping the ball at the Charger 37-yard stripe.
A strong run by Merrick gained 13 yards and a pass play from Elzenga to Madson netted 13 more as the Chargers were working their “two-minute” offense late in the half.
A nine-yard completion from Elzenga to Merrick was followed by a 12-yard catch by Madson and the Chargers were at the Wildcat eight-yard line.
On a well-executed play, Elzenga rifled an eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hass, increasing W-WG’s lead to 20-6 with 47 seconds remaining in the first half.
Wildcats control ball and field position after intermission, but W-WG continues to hold lead
Soto opened the second half with a dazzling 36-yard kick return for the Wildcats and the combination of Justin Jass and Kurt Schmitz continued to grind out yards on the ground as SWU controlled both the football and field position most of the minutes of the third and fourth quarters.
In the third quarter, the Wildcats ran off 23 offensive plays, while the Chargers had just seven touches with the ball.
But on the last play of the quarter, Joel intercepted his second pass of the night — this one at the W-WG 34-yard line, ending another SWU drive.
The Wildcats, however, got the ball right back when Justin Jass intercepted a pass at midfield — W-WG’s only turnover of the game.
In the fourth quarter, Justin Jass ripped off a 20-yard run and the Wildcats sustained a four first-down march to the Charger 12-yard stripe before fumbling.
W-WG’s Matt Otto pounced on the ball and the Chargers were able to effectively defend SWU’s late pass attempts and run out the clock with a pair of rushing first downs, including an 11-yard gain by Madson, which moved the ball inside the Wildcats’ 20-yard line with less than two minutes to play.
Madson, who carried the ball 21 times for 92 yards, passed once for 27 yards and caught three passes for 47 yards, also did the punting for the Chargers and had a stellar on defense with a game-high 22 tackles.
W-WG sophomore defensive lineman Logan Weis also had a huge night with 20 tackles, while Bunting was in on a dozen.
Merrick rushed for 46 yards on 13 carries and caught a pair of passes for 31 yards, while Buchman had two catches for 30 yards.
Justin Jass gained a game-high 98 yards rushing on 17 carries for the Wildcats, while Schmitz rambled for 95 yards on 23 rushes and Soto picked up 47 yards on five carries.
Senior defensive lineman Mykil Vonk had a team-leading 12 tackles for SWU, while Justin Jass and Schmitz were on 11 and 10 tackles, respectively.
Soto and Erik Jass both had six tackles for the Wildcats, who host Renville County West Wednesday night.
W-WG travels to tangle with Hills-Beaver Creek in its final regular-season game Wednesday.
SWU 6 0 0 0 — 6
W-WG 8 12 0 0 — 20