At attention

The Viroqua High School football team stands at attention during the national anthem, Friday. The Blackhawks hosted the Black River Falls Tigers for their homecoming game.

Homecoming is supposed to be a special night, and the Viroqua Blackhawk football team, led by their five of seniors, made the event very special for their hometown fans Friday night. The offense raced to a 30-0 halftime lead, the defense dominated all game long and the Blackhawks coasted to a 42-6 Coulee Conference win over Black River Falls.

Seniors Steve Diehl, Ryan Hannah, Trent Berg and Brendan Ellefson all played key roles in the dominating win and Brett Skrede, although not cleared to play on the field this season due to a medical condition, has contributed as a student coach.

Diehl, back at full strength after an early season ankle injury, ran for three touchdowns. Hannah ran for two touchdowns and completed a 59-yard touchdown pass. Berg grabbed an interception and returned the ball 25 yards, setting up a Viroqua score. Ellefson’s tight end blocking, setting the edge, along with Berg and the rest of the offensive line, helped the Blackhawks roll up 426 yards of total offense.

Although the seniors and the rest of the Blackhawks get all the credit for the in-game execution of the game plan, the game ball could have been given to the coaching staff and head coach Bill Hannah for a very gutsy move prior to the game.

Ryan Hannah, Bill Hannah’s son, has been the starting quarterback since his sophomore season and has had a very successful year, rushing for more than 700 yards and accounting for 11 touchdowns, 10 on the ground, one through the air and has not thrown an interception.

However, with the Blackhawk offense struggling over the last two games, scoring just one touchdown, the elder Hannah and his coaching staff made a bold decision to move Ryan Hannah to running back and give the starting quarterback start to Casey Hammond. Hammond, a junior, had not taken a snap under center all season. The move also included a switch back to the double-wing offense, which was the Blackhawks’ calling card for years, worked to perfection, but it wouldn’t be the only gutsy move the coach would make in the game.

“As the offense has struggled the last couple of weeks, we were trying to get outside more effectively,” Bill Hannah said. “We decided to try going back to the double-tight double-wing and put Casey at quarterback. In this formation we are completely balanced and can run everything both ways. We believe this formation gives us the opportunity to get outside better as well.”

The strategy worked to perfection, as the Blackhawks scored on all four possessions in the first half, roaring to a commanding 30-0 halftime lead, all against a BRF team that had rolled over Onalaska Luther 47-0 one week earlier.

It wasn’t just the Blackhawk offense that came to play, the defense dominated the Tigers, shutting down their potent aerial attack. The stifling defense was fueled by a relentless rush, accounting for 10 tackles for loss (TFLs) and 5 quarterback sacks, holding the Tigers to just 58 yards rushing and a high flying passing attack to just 157 yards.

The Blackhawks took the opening kickoff and marched 59 yards, in seven plays, with Diehl covering the final 6 yards. Key play in the drive was a 34-yard burst by sophomore running back Tyler Hannah, setting up the Hawks at the Tigers 6-yard line.

The VHS defense set the tone for the rest of the game on BRF’s first possession, as Berg stopped the first rushing attempt for no gain, after a 13-yard run, linebacker Truck Hannah recorded a 3-yard TFL. Junior lineman Christian Schneider followed with a sack of BRF QB Elliot Bird for a loss of 7 yards. On a third and 20, Bird completed a pass, but the Tiger receiver was dropped in his tracks for a loss of five yards by Blackhawks linebacker Anthony Rappl.

Following the short BRF punt, the Blackhawks drove 48 yards in seven plays, with Diehl covering the final 25 yards and with 2:54 left on the first quarter clock the Blackhawks were up 14-0 following the two-point conversion by Tyler Hannah.

The Tigers’ next drive was thwarted on the interception by Berg coming on a second down and eight at the BRF 43-yard line. Berg read the play beautifully, stepping into the middle of what looked to be an attempted screen pass, snatched the ball away from the BRF receiver and rumbled over and through several would be tacklers for a 25-yard return to the BRF 32-yard line. It took the Blackhawks just three plays to find pay-dirt, with Ryan Hannah getting loose for the first 22 yards, followed by a 5-yard scamper by Tyler Hannah and Ryan Hannah found the end zone from 5 yards out on the next play. The two-point conversion was good as Hammond connected with Ryan Hannah and the Blackhawks lead was 22-0.

The next BRF drive included a 37-yard pass completion from Bird to Issac Cowles, but the drive was stymied by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a 7-yard TFL by Schneider on a completed pass and a great knock down by Diehl on an attempted pass by Bird. The drive ended as Ryan Hannah stopped the Tigers a yard short on a fourth down and five running play at the Viroqua 25-yard line.

The Blackhawks ensuing drive was short-lived, as the Tigers recovered a fumble on Viroqua’s first play of the drive at the VHS 35-yard line. The Tigers could not take advantage of the great field position however, as once again the Blackhawk defense rose to the challenge stopping the drive on downs at the Viroqua 10-yard line with 5:17 left in the first half.

Backed up near their own goal line, the Blackhawk offense sputtered for the first time in the game, losing a yard on their first two rushing attempts. That is when coach Hannah called a time-out and made the second of his gutsy calls of the night, choosing to insert Ryan Hannah back at quarterback and return to the shot-gun wing offense the Blackhawks had been using all season.

Once again, the move worked to perfection, when on the very next play, facing a third down and 11 at their own 9-yard line, Ryan Hannah took the ball himself, weaved through the BRF defense for 16 yards for a first down at the Tigers 25-yard line and the Hawks never looked back. Seven plays later the Blackhawks had crossed the BRF goal line again this time capped off by a one-yard plunge by Ryann Hannah. Ryan Hannah punched across the two-point conversion and the Blackhawks were up 30-0 with 58 seconds left in the first half.

The Tigers finally got on the board on the last play of the third quarter, but the Blackhawks answered with another touchdown run by Diehl of 13 yards and a 59-yard scoring strike from Ryan Hannah to junior wide-receiver Sam Jett.

“The decision to switch back when we did was just to throw something else at their defense…it worked,” coach Hannah said.

“The atmosphere was electric,” coach Hannah said. “Our guys played with a lot of emotion. That is a huge step for us…we laid it all on the line and played for each other. I always knew they had it in them, it was nice to see them let it out. The student body was having a great time and that support was awesome.”

“Our seniors played awesome...Diehl with the three touchdowns and a lot of key blocks…Trent was in the right place at the right time, because he was doing the right thing…Ryan had a nice game rushing for over 100 yards again and running our offense with his strong presence…the edge blocking by Brendan tonight was awesome, he has been working on this part of his game, he is a quiet young man but his blocking tonight was loud…I would be remiss if I did not mention Brett Skrede — he has done so much behind the scenes…his leadership is awesome and his role as a student coach is instrumental to this team’s success.”

The Blackhawks’ offense was extremely efficient converting 23 first downs, including 7 of 9 third down attempts and were 2 for 2 on fourth down tries. The defense limited BRF to just 11 first downs.

Tyler Hannah rushed for 148 yards on 21 carries, Ryan Hannah 132 yards on 17 attempts and Diehl picked up 87 yards on 10 rushes. It was a well-balanced defensive effort with Jett leading the way recording 7.5 tackles, Ryan Hannah was next with 7, followed by Truck Hannah with 6.5 and 2 TFLs, Berg 5 tackles a sack and a TFL, Schneider 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3.5 TFLs, Keenan Hanson 3 tackles, a sack and a TFL and Sam Saner 2.5 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 TFLs.

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Angie Cina is editor of the Vernon County Broadcaster. Contact her at 608-637-5616.

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