Raiders rally for win
MENOMONIE -- It was on this very field last year that Steve Pax threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Brett Bock in overtime to lead Elmwood to a 20-14 win over Whitehall.
Well, Pax once again put a hurt to Whitehall in this year's season opener at the Gridiron Classic in UW-Stout's Williams Stadium.
But not in the same way.
Elmwood managed to kick its offense in gear in the second half to rally past Whitehall 16-7 off the strength of two Pax touchdowns....on the ground.
Pax separated his shoulder in the playoffs against Shell Lake and played with the injury through the first half of last year's basketball season.
The shoulder didn't heal quite right and the result was inability to throw effectively, or at least not the way he did last season.
But that didn't mean Pax was going to be out of the game. Far from it. He settled into a new position, at halfback
"I'm just excited that I could have chance to play and help the team," Pax said.
Elmwood got on the board in the third quarter when quarterback Brian Tolonen threw and 18-yard touchdown pass to Pax. He had to keep his balance along with breaking an an ankle tackle attempt to make it to the end zone.
"I just saw the end zone in front of me and I knew I had to get in there," Pax said. "I kept my balance and just kept running."
Tolonen threw the two-point conversion pass to Ryan Bechel to give the Raiders an 8-7 lead.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Pax scored again on a four-yard run after Elmwood recovered a fumble on the Norse' four-yard line. Pax ran in the two-point conversion and the Raiders led 16-7.
No argument there
Elmwood found itself not only down at halftime after Whitehall scored on a three-yard run by Adam Stellpflug in the second quarter, but also floundering in all aspects of the game.
But that's not something the Elmwood coaching staff had to tell the kids. They knew.
"We didn't get on them that much at halftime because they knew they played poorly," EHS head coach Jerry Hannack said. "You don't argue with someone who agrees with you and we didn't have to say a lot to them. That's the sign of a good team."
EHS' defense dominated Whitehall in the second half, controlling the line of scrimmage and forcing two key turnovers. Elmwood was also strong in special teams as well. Bechel made a field position-changing punt in the third quarter and Pax had a critical punt return that also put the Norse deep in their own territory.
"You have to remember we only had three players out there who saw extensive varsity action against first team opposition last season," Hannack said. "The kids had to grow up a lot in a short period of time and we were able to do so. That was especially true up front. We won the line of scrimmage in the second half and we wouldn't have won if we hadn't."
Pax had 58 yards rushing to lead his team. He also caught six passes for 63 yards to lead in that category as well. Ryan Bechel had 35 yards rushing. Pax also had a team-high 11 tackles while Bechel had 10.5, including three for loss. Bechel average 46.7 yards per punt. E.J. Wolske had an interception.
EHS split time at quarterback between sophomore Brian Tolonen and junior Dillon Morgan. Tolonen was 7-for-11 for 78 yards and seem to grow comfortable in the pocket despite a rough first half all around.
"Brian was stepping up and hopefully he keeps going," Pax said
But while lauding Tolonen, Hannack said the Raiders' offense is still a work in progress trying to break in a new quarterback. The Raiders hope to get more of their work done heading into game two this Friday at Spring Valley.
"Dillon struggled today but I still have all confidence in him," Hannack said. "Brian did a fine job in the second half, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be the same way next week. We just have to wait and see what really works for us, what players make our offense work effectively in what positions and go from there."
The Norse were led in rushing by Kevin Berg with 94 yards on 21 carries. Whitehall had 153 yards rushing but only 30 yards passing.