To compete with a team as talented as West Salem, the Tomah High School football team needed to execute, especially on offense.
Instead, turnovers, dropped passes, penalties and botched snaps conspired to keep the Timberwolves off the scoreboard.
Tomah coach Brad Plueger found little in the way of silver linings after Tomah’s 31-0 loss to the Panthers in a Mississippi Valley Conference contest Friday at E.J. McKean Field. It was the Timberwolves’ second straight loss and dropped their overall record to 2-2.
“They kicked us all over the field,” Plueger said. “We’re very disappointed with our kids tonight.”
The Timberwolves were hardly inept. They gained 234 total yards and produced 15 first downs, a 100-yard rusher and receiver with 10 receptions. But mistakes at critical times and West Salem’s ruthlessness in cashing them in led to the rout.
The mistakes started shortly after the opening kickoff. Tomah lost a fumble and dropped three passes during its first three series en route to falling behind 7-0.
The Timberwolves got a chance to get back into the contest when defensive back Trey Gnewikow executed a strip and fumble recovery at the West Salem 37-yard line. Three passes from quarterback Connor Prielipp to Gnewikow got Tomah to the 17, but an illegal procedure penalty and incomplete pass terminated the drive.
West Salem responded by ripping off four straight runs of 28, 5, 34 and 11 yards to take a 14-0 lead.
The Panthers kicked a field goal late in the half for a 17-0 lead and appeared ready to add to its lead after another Tomah turnover, but Gnewikow recovered a West Salem fumble in the end zone with 45 seconds left to keep the halftime deficit at 17 points.
West Salem opened the second half with a four-play, 62-yard drive for a 24-0 lead before Tomah mounted its best drive of the evening.
The Timberwolves marched 12 plays from its own 20 to the West Salem four, but on third-and-two, a botched snap sent the Timberwolves backward four yards, and the scoring threat ended with an incomplete pass.
On the next play West Salem quarterback Ryan Beirne connected with Trenton Foreman on a 94-yard post pattern for a 31-0 West Salem advantage.
The Timberwolves got four first downs on their next drive, but the scoring threat ended with two straight incompletions at the West Salem 25.
While the Timberwolves moved the ball, they weren’t able to generate any explosive plays. Tomah’s longest play from scrimmage was 14 yards. West Salem had nine plays go for 15 or more yards and none that went for negative yardage.
“If we don’t have that 60-yard playmaker, we have to be solid all around the field,” Plueger said. “We didn’t execute anything offensively or defensively ... everybody has to execute.”
Tomah running back Isaac Klema produced his second 100-yard rushing effort of the season. He rushed 29 times for 121 yards and got many of those yards while Angel Burkhalter was inserted at fullback.
For the second straight week, Tomah was going against a team with a defense designed primarily to stop the pass. Kroener, the Timberwolves’ most explosive playmaker, got a steady diet of double coverage and caught just one pass for nine yards.
“We’re going to have to run the ball until teams get out of that,” Plueger said.
Gnewikow had 10 receptions for 67 yards to go along with his two fumble recoveries.
The Timberwolves return to action Friday, Sept. 15 for an MVC contest at Sparta starting at 7 p.m. The Spartans are coming off a 27-17 loss at La Crosse Logan.
“It’s going to be a little more physical at practice this week,” Plueger said. “I think the kids will respond.”
West Salem 14 03 14 00−31
Tomah 00 00 00 00−00
W—Kelsey 20 pass from Beirne (Beirne kick) 5:52.
W—Holt 11 run (Beirne kick) :16.
W—Beirne 26 FG 3:24.
W—Holt 43 run (Beirne kick) 10:04.
W—Foreman 94 pass from Beirne (Beirne kick) 2:20.
First downs—W 17, 15. Rushing: W 33-292, T 38-138. Passes—W 7-13-0, T 15-30-1. Passing yards—W 202, T 113. Fumbles—W 2-2, T 2-1. Penalties—W 6-60, T 6-35.
Rushing: W—Holt 16-170, Whitbeck 1-3, Beirne 6-78, Bigley 6-38, Schams 3-3. T—Klema 29-121, Kroener 2-6, Burkhalter 2-11, E. Gomez 1-7, Springman 1-0, Prielipp 3-(-15).
Passing: W—Beirne 7-13-0-202. T—Prielipp 15-30-1-113.
Receiving: W—Foreman 2-108, Kelsey 1-20, Holt 1-16, Whitbeck 3-58. T—Gnewikow 10-67, Brey 2-23, Millard 2-14, Kroener 1-9.