La Crosse Central came to Tomah Friday fighting for its playoff life, but the Tomah Timberwolves joined Central in playing like a team with something to lose.
Despite being eliminated from playoff contention three weeks ago, the Timberwolves delivered a passionate effort before losing 34-32 to Central in a Mississippi Valley Conference matchup at E.J. McKean Field.
The homecoming loss was the season finale for the Timberwolves, who finished with a 3-6 overall record and 1-6 in the MVC. The Red Raiders travel to undefeated Menomonie for a Division 2 matchup Friday, Oct. 20.
“I’m proud of the kids,” Tomah coach Brad Plueger said. “They stayed the course for four quarters. We just came up a little short.”
The Timberwolves trailed by two touchdowns early in the second period but fought back to take a 32-28 lead late in the fourth quarter after Tomah wide receiver Kyle Kroener caught an 83-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peter Brey.
Central came back with a nine-play, 63-yard drive to regain the lead at 36-34 with 2:24 left, but Tomah had a final chance. Krimzen Perea returned the ensuing kickoff 18 yards to the 37-yard line, and 16- and 17-yard completions to Kroener got the Timberwolves deep into Central territory with 1:15 left.
However, Brey was sacked for a nine-yard loss on first down, and Plueger said that limited Tomah’s play-calling options.
“We couldn’t go with our underneath stuff after that,” he said.
Plueger said he was ready to let Kroener kick a field goal had the Timberwolves gotten inside the 15, but the next three plays were long incompletions, and Central took possession and dropped into the victory formation with 38 seconds left.
Central wasted no time unpacking its big-play offense. After the Timberwolves opened the contest with a three-and-out, Central’s Greg Kohler returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown. The conversion pass failed, and Central led 6-0 two minutes into the game.
It took Tomah just 49 seconds to respond. Brey threw a play-action pass in the flat to Seth Huneck, who ran 64 yards down the left sideline for the Timberwolves’ first touchdown. Kroener booted the extra point for a 7-6 Tomah lead.
The Red Raiders looked like they wouldn’t have to sweat their playoff berth after a pair of drives lasting less than two minutes gave them a 22-7 lead. However, Tomah got back into the contest in dramatic fashion. One play after tailback Dawson Ollendick kept Tomah’s drive alive by converting a fourth-and-one, Brey connected with Kroener on a 48-yard fly pattern down the right sideline for a touchdown. Kroener added the extra point to slice the margin to 22-14.
Central’s next drive went deep into Tomah territory before Trey Gnewikow intercepted a pass in the end zone. A 45-yard wheel route from Brey to tailback Isaac Klema advanced Tomah deep into Central territory, and the drive ended when Kroener out-jumped a Central defender for a 12-yard touchdown reception. The conversion pass failed, leaving Central ahead 22-20.
Central nearly scored before halftime. A holding penalty wiped out a Central touchdown pass, and Kroener intercepted a pass in the end zone to end the half.
The Red Raiders took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 73 yards in seven plays for a 28-20 lead.
Tomah scored again on the first play of the fourth quarter, when Ollendick took a fourth down handoff, followed a path cleared by center Tyler Von Haden and ran a straight line to the end zone. The conversion pass failed leaving Central ahead 28-26.
Another interception by Gnewikow and a sack by Ryan Bernhardt stuffed Central’s next two drives.
Brey ended the night with just eight pass completions, but they went for 311 yards. Plueger said Brey and Kroener took advantage of a Central defense that loaded up to stop the run.
“They were playing cover zero with eight in the box,” Plueger said.
Despite the congestion up front, Tomah still rushed for 146 yards. The offensive line of Von Haden, Trition Moseley, Nolan Young, Wyatt Davis and Nate Hausman created holes for Klema (101 yards) and Ollendick (50) despite the loss of Trevor Shutter, a two-way lineman and three-year starter. Shutter suffered an ankle injury last week at La Crosse Aquinas, and while he’s expected to be ready for the start of basketball season, he was still limping and lacked sufficient mobility to play Friday.
“Up front, we did a decent job of blocking,” Plueger said.
Klema finished the game with 146 total yards despite being shifted from tailback to halfback after Huneck left the game with an injury. Plueger said he will miss Klema, who wasn’t a varsity regular until his senior season.
“I thought Isaac had a wonderful senior season,” Plueger said. “I hope kids really see that, about a kid who played jayvee though his junior year last year ... lifts all the time, listens to everything the coach has to say, is very mature about things and comes in and has an unbelievable senior season. That is what high school kids should look to.”
Kroener finished with 176 receiving yards, and Gnewikow had two interceptions along with an interception of a conversion pass.
Plueger was proud of his entire senior class.
“Our seniors never went away,” Plueger said. “When you lose five in a row and keep coming back and listen to your coaches ... this class is very special.”
C—Kohler 69 punt return (pass failed) 9:52
T—Huneck 64 pass from Brey (Kroener kick) 9:13
C—Fleming 1 run (Luethe pass from Davis) :18
C—Lueth 14 pass from Davis (Kohler run) 9:46.
T—Kroener 48 pass from Brey (Kroener kick) 7:47
T—Kroener 12 pass from Brey (pass failed) :58
C—Fleming 4 run (pass failed) 10:06
T—Ollendick 12 run (pass failed) 11:55
T—Kroener 83 pass from Brey (pass failed) 5:44
C—Fleming 4 run (pass failed) 2:24.
First downs—C 20, T 19. Rushing—C 42-188, T 47-146. Passes—C 11-22-3, T 8-20-0. Passing yards C 200, T 311. Fumbles—C 0-0, T 1-0. Penalties—C 6-42. T 5-50.
Rushing: C—Lueth 2-6, Fleming 19-58, Riley 4-12, Davis 8-7, Johnson 4-64, Kohler 5-41. T—Klema 20-101, Ollendick 14-50, Huneck 7-14, Brey 4-(-22), Gnewikow 1-2, Kroener 1-1.
Passing: C—Davis 11-22-3-200. T—Brey 8-20-0-311.
Receiving: C—Johnson 5-83, Lueth 4-71, Kohler 2-46. T—Kroener 5-176, Huneck 1-64, Klema 1-45, Millard 1-26.
Final 2017 standings
Results of Oct. 13
Central 34 Tomah 32
Onalaska 42 West Salem 21
Holmen 45 Sparta 23
Logan 41 Aquinas 0