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Tackling woes not a worry for Green Bay

GREEN BAY — In the immediate aftermath of last week’s preseason opener, Mike McCarthy didn’t seem overly concerned. The Green Bay Packers coach had seen plenty of missed tackles on defense during his team’s 24-9 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, but he wasn’t exactly up in arms about it.

“Do you miss tackles during the regular season?” McCarthy asked rhetorically – and not at all angrily. “OK. (So) I think this is kind of a normal first night. I’d like to say I’ve come in here and done cartwheels in the past on our first night about our tackling. That hasn’t happened. I’m not going to do one tonight. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But the footwork and the things we’re doing with the drill work, this is great video to correct from. Obviously when you miss tackles it results in big plays for the offense.”

And that’s exactly what happened on the Eagles’ lone touchdown, as outside linebacker Clay Matthews came through unblocked on a blitz on third-and-13 but couldn’t take quarterback Carson Wentz down. Once Wentz escaped, he got the ball to wide receiver Mack Hollins against Packers top pick Kevin King, who then missed the tackle on him. Hollins then stiff-armed Quinten Rollins on his way to the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead.

Those three missed tackles were among 16 that defensive coordinator Dom Capers counted in the game. No wonder McCarthy talked about the importance of tackling better – and, on offense, breaking more tackles — every day this week, and why the coaches put the defense through extra tackling drills in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday leading into today’s second preseason game at Washington.

“You can throw a Band-Aid on it and say, ‘Oh, it’s preseason (game No.) 1,’” McCarthy said early in the week. “You look around the league and you see a lot of that going on. But that’s not the way you evaluate your own team. We need to get better.”

Then, he addressed it again.

“The things we’re really focused and our emphasis for Washington are, we need to win the tackling challenge,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t break any tackles last week, and we didn’t tackle very well. Our emphasis is on tackling.”

When it comes to preseason play, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers will happily tell you, practice creates a better approximation for regular-season play than the actual exhibition games, since teams are so intentionally vanilla in their game-planning on both sides of the ball. But when you don’t do any sort of tackling in practice — struggles in that department are to be expected.

Maybe that’s why Matthews even made light of the issue, jokingly claiming that he intentionally failed to tackle Wentz on his sack.

“No, see, I did that on purpose because we work on scramble drills,” Matthews said. “I wanted to let the guys get a look at it, and unfortunately we just weren’t ready for it. I mean, that’s my bad I guess.

“Nah, it’s true though. We talk about tackling a doughnut is different versus tackling a quarterback. But come Week 1 I’ll make sure I can get quarterbacks down.”

Yes, for as many drills as the Packers do in practice to simulate tackling – including the infamous doughnut mats that roll around the field – there’s nothing that perfectly simulates trying to take down another human being, and one who doesn’t want to be tackled at that.

“Obviously we want to be better. We can’t have the missed tackles we had (in the opener),” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “The first time out the gate, it’s going to be a little sloppy. We have to clean that up. We know that. The thing about those tackles, we were getting stiff-armed a few times – not to make excuses. It was almost as though Philadelphia practiced that.

“We’ll see where we are in the next couple of weeks. But we are out to improve that.”

“I feel that we’ll get much better. We expect to improve this week,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “You guys watch us tackle every day on the practice field. Then all of a sudden you get in a real game and the level steps up.

“Now, here in about three or four weeks, it’s going to really step up and go from preseason to the regular season. It’s something we’ve got to learn from because it’s obviously very important for us to be a good defense, we’ve got to be able to tackle. I think our tackling improved somewhat last year. We know that’s an area that we can improve between preseason (game No.) 1 and preseason (game No.) 2.”

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High school football: Johnny Davis shines as Red Raiders win

There were a lot of things for the Central High School football team to celebrate Friday night at Veterans Memorial Field.

Sophomore quarterback Johnny Davis was one. Junior Jamar Davis was another. The biggest, of course, was a 45-7 nonconference victory over Eau Claire North.

But a serious injury to the left ankle of Jordan Davis while making a catch near the goal line on the second possession made the win a little bittersweet.

The Red Raiders (1-0) set the tone when Johnny Davis rolled to his right and connected with Jordan Davis for a 14-yard gain on the first play and continued it with the quarterback passing all over the Huskies.

“I was a little nervous at the start,” said Johnny Davis, who completed 21 of 37 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. “But once I saw that our guys were going to come out and do what they needed to do, I knew we were going to win.”

Jordan Davis, who capped the first drive with a 38-yard touchdown catch and finished with three catches for 85 yards during seven offensive plays, was injured while hauling in a 33-yard catch down the left sideline on the second possession. He pulled the ball down over the top of the defender before the two tumbled to the ground, and Davis remained there.

“I was very concerned about it,” Johnny Davis said of the injury. “He was going to be one of the best receivers in the conference, and it was tough watching him go down like that.”

The Red Raiders, who won their opener for the second straight year, completed the drive with a Greg Kohler touchdown run as the sophomore receiver was prepared to be transported in an ambulance that was parked on the track.

Johnny Davis continued unfazed and made good read after good read while the Red Raiders pulled away. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns as Central built a 38-0 halftime lead.

The Red Raiders had touchdown drives of 68, 39, 70, 48 and 32 yards in the first half. The last score — a 32-yard pass to Zach Lueth — came with 4 minutes, 32 seconds left in the half.

Eau Claire North managed 52 yards in the first quarter and just 17 in the second as Central tacked on two second-quarter touchdowns.

Jamar Davis was a dual offensive threat and took care of North with his speed. He caught seven passes for 104 yards and carried three times for 63 yards.

“What’s different between us now and us last year is that last year we had a bunch of linemen and tried to run the ball a lot more with the spread,” Central coach Tony Servais said. “Our young guys from last year are now on the outside and ready to give us more.

“We saw Jamar’s speed today, but we’ll also find plenty of opportunities for Greg (Kohler), too. He didn’t run the ball a lot today, but he will.”

The injury to Jordan Davis created an opening for Lueth to get more snaps at receiver, and he took advantage of the opportunity. The senior caught four passes for 101 yards and a second-quarter touchdown.

Rory O’Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune 

Central High School quarterback Johnny Davis runs with the ball during the second quarter of Friday’s nonconference game against Eau Claire North at UW-La Crosse. Central won 45-7.

High school football: Eau Claire Memorial sprints past Logan in season opener

Big plays allowed by its defense and turnovers by its offense cost the Logan High School football team dearly on Friday night.

A lost fumble and a pair of interceptions in the first half put Logan behind, and a dominating performance by the Eau Claire Memorial defensive line sunk the Rangers’ chances of opening their season with a win. The Old Abes held off a late push from Logan to get back into it in the fourth quarter en route to a 35-6 nonconference win in front of an estimated crowd of 750 people at Swanson Field.

Eau Claire Memorial took advantage of three second-quarter turnovers to build its lead. Already holding a 7-0 lead, Old Abes senior Isaac Clark picked off an overthrown pass from Logan quarterback Matt Escher, who was making his first varsity start. Clark’s 17-yard return set up Eau Claire Memorial at Logan’s 23-yard line and the Old Abes needed just four plays to punch in their second score.

Rangers senior CJ Siegel fumbled on the second play of the next possession, and Eau Claire Memorial struck immediately. Senior quarterback Keagan Clachera hit sophomore Calvin Tanner on a post route between the Logan safeties and Tanner did the rest on a 45-yard scoring strike to go up 21-0.

Logan’s offense was shaky from the start. It took until their sixth possession for the Rangers to tally a first down, and they finished the first half with 49 yards of total offense.

Down 28-6, the Rangers recovered a fumble about midway through the fourth quarter and had a last-gasp chance to get back into the game, but three consecutive sacks by the Old Abes pushed Logan back 24 yards and ended that threat.

A dozen of the Rangers’ rushing attempts were stopped for a loss, as the Eau Claire Memorial defensive line cut through the line and gave Escher no time to get set up in the pocket.

“Their loaded at those spots (defensive line). It allowed their linebackers to run free. That kid (Cormac Sampson), who is going to Wisconsin, was as advertised,” Logan coach Casey Knoble said.

Eau Claire quarterback Keagan Calchera was effective avoiding pressure all night against Logan’s front. He broke free from a would-be sack, rolled to his right and then lofted a 40-yard touchdown pass to Tanner, who had settled in behind the defense.

The Rangers got a boost when Siegel returned a punt 66 yards and set the offense up with the ball in the red zone in the third quarter. Siegel cut down the left side of the field and had one defender to beat. He cut back inside but tripped at about the 15. Logan scored four plays later when Escher found senior Gunnar Parcher on a quick pass from 5 yards out.

Siegel, a NCAA Division I North Dakota recruit, finished with 57 yards on four catches. Logan was without senior running back and linebacker Malik Brown, who was out with an injury. Overall, Logan was playing without six starters, all of whom Knoble expects to have back next week.

There was a scary moment near the end of the first half, when Logan senior and team captain Ambrose Metz-Beard caught a screen pass and was hit hard in the back. The teams agreed to let the final 19 seconds of the half run out, as Metz-Beard was on the ground surrounded by athletic trainers, coaches and his parents for nearly 20 minutes. He eventually stood up on his own to lay down on the stretcher that took him to a local hospital.

Rory O’Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune 

Central’s Jamar Davis runs for a big gain during the second quarter of Friday’s nonconference game against Eau Claire North.

Rory O’Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune  

Logan quarterback Matthew Escher runs with the ball as Eau Claire Memorial’s Grant Wolfe gives chase during Friday’s nonconference game at Logan High School.

Jeff Brown: G-E-T's building project worth watching

The “dirt guys” have been busy at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School, some of them riding on a seat, some of them knocking others on theirs.

Either way, it amounts to one impressive building project.

Longtime G-E-T football coach Jon Steffenhagen affectionately calls his offensive and defensive linemen “dirt guys,” as they do their most important work in the trenches. They did just that Thursday night in a 43-0 season-opening shellacking of Nekoosa, but more on that later.

The other “dirt guys” at G-E-T have been busy, too — basically since the end of May — as they have been digging, hauling and moving tons of dirt and gravel as part of a nearly $5 million building project.

A project that will completely change the Red Hawks’ outdoor athletic facilities – including a state-of-the-art turf football field — as well as give the school its first real home for a wrestling practice room.

The football field, weather willing, is scheduled to be completed Thursday, Sept. 7, the day before the Red Hawks’ next home game, which is Friday, Sept. 8 against River Valley.

“Our kids have handled it really well. When it gets done, it gets done,” Steffenhagen said of the turf field, which also includes new bleachers with a seating capacity of 1,500.

“West Salem is going through the same thing. It takes a certain amount of time and there is nothing we can do about it. If we play every game on the road, it’s not a big deal.”

The wait, Steffenhagen and his team knows, will be worth it. The same can be said of the other parts of the building project.

The multi-purpose room, which is a building that is attached to the rear of the high school, will also serve as an area for dance classes and other school-related activities, according to G-E-T activities director Pete Peterson.

“This is the first time we have had a wrestling room since I have been here, in more than 10 years,” Peterson said. “This (project) also includes the new baseball and softball field behind the middle school, with lights, concession stand and announcer’s booth.”

If you haven’t seen what’s transpired over the last few months, here’s a clue:

The football field, as we all knew it, is gone.

The baseball field, once located next to the high school parking lot, is gone.

What once was the football practice field, that’ gone, too.

The new turf football field, which will be used for a number of other varsity as well as school-related sports activities, now occupies the space – and then some – where the practice field once was.

“This is huge for our fans to come and see the dedication our athletes have given, and to see the school and community stand behind them,” Peterson said.

“Our dance teams, they practice in the atrium of our school right now. Wrestling has been off-site for years. We have bounced kids around for years trying to find space.”

Soon, as in the end of October, a number of G-E-T teams will have new and up-to-date facilities other Coulee Conference schools like Arcadia, West Salem and Black River Falls enjoy.

Everything comes with a price — sometimes dollars, sometimes inconvenience — and that is exactly why Steffenhagen has his team conditioned to play all nine regular-season games on the road, if need be.

“I think we play better on the road, as we focus better on the road,” Steffenhagen said. “You focus on where you are going and why you are going there. These kids, they have focused on what their intention is and they have done it well.”

That doesn’t mean he and his team won’t welcome the chance to play on a spiffy new turf field. They would love to, but know they must remain patient.

“It is going to be fun when we get to play on it the first time,” said senior running back Ben Behan, who rushed 11 times for 168 yards and four TDs and caught two passes for 49 more yards in the win over Nekoosa.

“Everyone is super excited. It will be looking great with new stands and new lights and that turf field. It will be really impressive. Until then, we have to realize why games are being switched and focus on what we have to do.”

Spoken like a true team leader, which is just what Steffenhagen said this team is — a group of leaders who are one of the most focused groups he has had in 22 years.

They don’t care about individual rushing yards, touchdowns scores, tackles made. It’s about practicing hard, focusing on the task at hand, watching video on opponents and executing the game plan.

“We never call a play to get kids’ stats. We call a play for what I see we can do, what the staff up top (in the press box) is telling me will work,” Steffenhagen said. “With our offense, we attack what they give us.

“Last night (Thursday night), they took away the edge early, so we ran between the tackles. Our kids played well (against Nekoosa). We didn’t turn the ball over and we were efficient in what we wanted to do on the ground.”

To the tune of 380 yards of total offense, including 340 on the ground. To the tune of 23 first downs, and a possession time of 37 minutes in a 48-minute game.

Steffenhagen will not let anyone with the program get too full of themselves after just one game, but there seems to be some impressive things on the horizon for the Red Hawks this season.

Both in terms of what they can do on the field and the field itself.

It has the makings of a memorable season.