Big on big - Elmwood hosts Plum City Saturday
Saturday's match-up against Plum City offer many tests, tasks and challenges for the Elmwood High School football team.
It's Homecoming. The Raiders are coming off a tough loss and they need to find a way to break PC's 48-game regular season winning streak to have a chance to win the Lakeland South Conference title.
"I think any championship team has to be able to handle all that," EHS head coach Jerry Hannack said. "If we're worthy of it, then we need to handle the Homecoming distractions. We need to be able to bounce back after last weekend and we need play our best game to beat one of the best teams in our area for the past several years."
Former University of Wisconsin head football coach Barry Alvarez used to call these match-ups "Big on Big" and big is what's all at stake in Saturday's contest, which kicks off at 1 p.m. on the banks of the Eau Galle River at Raider Field.
Clayton scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to upend Elmwood 47-46 Saturday afternoon.
Clayton quarterback Tyler Ketz was the Homecoming game hero for the Bears as he threw touchdown passes of 64 and 38 yards to rally the team from a 46-34 deficit. He threw for 483 yards on 22-of-29 passing and had six TD passes in leading Clayton to its first-ever win over EHS in school history. Taylor Bergmann led Clayton in receiving with nine catches for 272 yards.
But Hannack says don't put the blame on the Raiders' defensive backfield.
"We had no pass rush, we didn't get any sacks on Ketz and we let them covert 8-of-10 third conversions," Hannack said. "There's plenty of blame to go around. The bottom line was it was a team failure on defense. What we saw on film Sunday were kids in position to make plays but just not finishing. We don't have to make wholesale changes for this week. We just have to get better at what we're doing. We've got to finish what we start."
No doubt PC is salivating what at could be big day for them on offense if Elmwood doesn't improve in a hurry. Quarterback Alex Gilles and receivers Tyler Churchill and Chase Luebker are all conference leaders in their field. Churchill had 347 yard receiving and eight touchdowns while Gilles has passed for 775 yards and 13 scores.
To counter PC's passing may well require a ball-and-clock control ground game Elmwood's Jesse McKune certainly can accomplish that task. He had a big game as well Saturday, rushing for nearly 300 yards and scoring on TD runs of 92, 16, 69 and one yard. Both teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards of total offense.
McKune leads the LSC in rushing with 869 yards on 107 carries with 17 touchdowns scored.
Plum City head coach Troy Ingli knows McKune well from having coached him for two seasons while playing at PC. Ingli says stopping him will come down to simple fundamentals.
"He's tough to bring down and he's fast, which is the perfect combination for a running back," Ingli said. "The way Elmwood runs its offense puts Jesse in space quite often means we need our linebackers and defensive back to be able to tackle him one on one. It's the challenge we face Saturday."
McKune isn't the only player on offense PC has to worry about. Raider quarterback Brian Tolonen wasn't too bad himself throwing the football Saturday. He completed 6-of-12 passes for 154 yards and tossed a 67-yard TD pass to Christian Fredrickson. Tolonen can also run the football as well. He's third on the team in rushing with 121 yards. Logan Wolf is another dual threat the Raiders have both as a runner and wide receiver, to which he leads the team in receptions with 21 for 268 yards.
Such challenges are what the No. 8 ranked Blue Devils have been accomplishing from week to week. In the Devils 40-0 shutout of Lake Holcombe Friday, PC held Chieftains' running back Walker Jones, the third leading back in the league, to just 78 yards on 22 carries.
PC can also move the ball on the ground as well. Gabe Rodriguez, back after a two-game suspension to start the season, has rushed for 275 yards on 17 carries and three touchdowns while Ryan Gillman has nearly 300 yards. Last week at Lake Holcombe, Rodriguez rushed for two TDs, Gillman had a touchdown run and Bryan Larson also scored on a 14-yard run. These scored were complimented by two TD receptions by Churchill of 25 and 30 yards from Gilles.
"We're deep at running back and you can add in Alex too because he's very good running the ball as a quarterback," Ingli said. "I think what we've done best so far this season is to have such diversity on offense so we have many different ways we can move the ball."
PC has obviously won the last five games in this series. Elmwood's last win over the Blue Devils came in 2004 which, ironically enough, was a Homecoming contest for the Raiders as well.