The Viroqua Blackhawks knew they were facing a daunting task heading into the final Coulee Conference game of the year, Friday, Oct. 13, needing a win to earn a spot in the WIAA playoffs, something the program had not done in the past 13 seasons.
They were on the road taking on the Gale Ettrick Trempealeau Red Hawks, unbeaten in eight games this season and the No. 4 ranked team in the state. Not only were the Red Hawks unbeaten they had also outscored their previous eight opponents 380-65 and had ran rough shod over their previous four conference foes by combined scores of 252-28.
The Blackhawks (4-5 and 2-3 Coulee) played well early in the contest and trailed just 8-6 at the end of the first quarter, but a pair of lost fumbles and just too much size and athleticism by G-E-T wore down the Hawks in the end. The result, a 52-6 outscore and another year of looking forward to “next year” for a post-season playoff-birth.
The Red Hawks (9-0 and 5-0 Coulee) had 14 athletes 6-foot-2 and taller, Viroqua just six. G-E-T had 12 players tip the scales at more than 200 pounds, VHS just five. In the experience column G-E-T had 15 seniors on their roster to the Blackhawks’ four.
VHS senior Steve Diehl gave the Blackhawks great field position on their opening series, returning the opening kick-off 38 yards, from the 12-yard line to the midfield stripe. The good field position was short-lived, however, when the Red Hawks recovered a VHS fumble at their own 43 yard line. Three consecutive tackles by Viroqua senior defensive tackle Trent Berg, forced G-E-T into a fourth-down and 2-situation. The Red Hawks rolled the dice and went for the fourth down conversion. The gamble paid off when Ben Behan broke through the initial wave of Viroqua tacklers and raced 49 to score. The two-point conversion try was good and the Blackhawks trailed 8-0 with 8:32 left in the first quarter.
It didn’t take long for the Blackhawks to answer following the ensuing kickoff return by Diehl to the VHS 16-yard line. After a one-yard run by Diehl, junior quarterback Casey Hammond tossed a short three-yard pass to senior Brendan Ellefson near the right-side hash mark. Ellefson made the reception and quickly lateraled to Ryan Hannah, breaking free down the right sideline, Hannah then outran the G-E-T defense for an 80-yard touchdown on the perfectly executed hook and ladder play. The two-point conversion try came up short, however, and the Blackhawks trailed 8-6 with 7:37 remaining in the opening period.
It was all Red Hawks after that, scoring 46 unanswered points, putting the game away with a 28-point third quarter outburst. For the second week in a row weather played a role in the game. This time it was fog settling over the G-E-T field early in the second half causing spectators, scorekeepers and radio announcers to have a very limited view of just the near half of the field. In fact, the G-E-T scoreboard operator stopped posting the down and distance and yard mark placement of the ball on the field for the majority of the second half.
The Blackhawks piled up 220 yards off total offense, 200 on the ground and 20 through the air and won the time of possession battle 26:36 minutes to 22:19 for G-E-T. But the Red Hawks scored a pair of touchdowns on two-play drives in the third quarter and the final score came on a 46- yard return of a VHS fumble. Hannah led the Viroqua offense rushing for 116 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown, giving the talented three-year starter 1,155 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground in 2017, in addition to throwing for three scores this year.
Three seniors playing their final game in a Blackhawk uniform led the defense, with Diehl recording 8 tackles, Berg added five and Hannah four-and-a-half. For the first time this season the Blackhawks failed to record a tackle for loss, having registered 55 as a team through the first eight games. G-E-T game planned to control Viroqua’s sophomore middle-linebacker Tyler Hannah, who led the team in tackles this season with 56 and in TFL’s with 10.5. The younger Hannah was blocked well and limited to just three tackles in the game.
The Blackhawks’ four-win season is the best since 2014 when they finished 6-4.