Playing under nearly perfect weather conditions, Viroqua and Westby squared off, Friday, Sept. 15, in their annual battle.
The game, played at Blackhawk Field with temperatures in the 70s, in front of a huge crowd, was the Coulee Conference opener for both teams and turned out to be a tale of two halves. The Norsemen set the tone early, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions en route to building a commanding 21-0 halftime lead.
For the second time in two weeks, the Blackhawks regrouped at intermission, outscoring the Norsemen in the final 24 minutes by an 8-6 margin but it wasn’t enough, as Westby (2-3 overall, 1-0 Coulee) held on for the hard-fought 27-8 Coulee Conference win. Viroqua (2-3, 0-1 Coulee) had responded the previous week with a big second half in their 47-21 win over Richland Center.
After forcing a Viroqua punt on the Blackhawks’ first possession, the Norsemen mounted a 13 play 77-yard drive, culminating in a 5-yard touchdown run by senior Ryan Daines. The point after kick by Grant Dayton was good and the visitors had a 7-0 lead with 4:07 left in the first quarter.
It appeared that the Blackhawks may stop the drive, when VHS senior linebacker Steve Diehl dropped Daines for a one-yard gain on a third down and two at the Westby 43-yard line. Facing a fourth-down a one in their own territory, Westby coach Andy Hulst called a time-out and on the next play sent Daines on a sweep to the left, where he found plenty of day-light racing for 18 yards and a first down to the Viroqua 39.
Following the Westby score, Diehl returned the ensuing kickoff from the Viroqua 15-yard line to the 37, where the Norse defense, with momentum from the touchdown, pushed the Blackhawks in reverse. Facing a 4th and 21 at their own 26-yard line, Viroqua and punter Ryan Hannah was forced to punt, and under heavy pressure, connected for his shortest kick of the season, resulting in great field position for the Norse at the Viroqua 39-yard line.
Sparked by a 16-yard scamper by Devonte Spears on the first play of the drive, it took the Norsemen just three more plays to find the end-zone for the second time. Westby junior quarterback Alex Gluch capped of the short drive with a touchdown run from four yards out and the point after kick was converted once again by Dayton and suddenly the Norse lead was 14-0, with 31 seconds left in the first quarter.
After Viroqua’s next possession ended in yet another punt, the Norsemen turned the ball over on the first play of the series. Dropping to pass Gluch launched a 40 yard pass down the left sideline intended for Spears, where Hannah, playing at a safety position, made an in-stride over-the-shoulder fingertip interception at the Viroqua 33- yard line.
The turnover seemed to ignite the sputtering Viroqua offense, and the Blackhawks mounted their first serious offensive threat of the game. Key play in the drive was a 13-yard pass play from Hannah to Diehl, on a 3rd down and 11 at the 26-yard line, setting up a first down at the Westby 13. An eight-yard carry by Tyler Hannah and a one-yard plunge by Ryan Hannah, gave the Blackhawks a 3rd down and 1 at the Westby four-yard line. Following a Westby time-out, Ryan Knight knifed into the Viroqua backfield and dropped Tyler Hannah for a 3-yard loss, and on the ensuing fourth down play, Spears stopped Viroqua’s Andrew Wedwick well short of the goal line ending the Blackhawks only real offensive threat of the first half.
With a spark from the defensive stop, the Norsemen marched 94 yards in just eight plays to take a 21-0 lead. Coach Hulst and the Norse reached into their bag of tricks for the touchdown play, with just 25 seconds left on the halftime clock and facing a 3rd and two at their own 40-yard line, Gluch connected on an 11- yard pass to Carter Bergdahl, who lateraled the ball to Hunter Ward. The junior running back raced down the left sidelines finding pay-dirt from 49 yards out.
Trailing by the 21-0 score the Blackhawks came out of halftime with something to prove, and it started with the opening kickoff by Tyler Hannah, which sailed through the Norse end zone, by far the longest kickoff effort of the year by the young sophomore.
From there the Blackhawk defense stepped up, stopping Westby on downs featuring a couple of tackles for loss during the possession, one by Tyler Hannah and the other by Diehl forcing a Westby punt.
The Blackhawks took the ball on the ensuing possession and drove 65 yards in 10 plays, the final 31 came on a burst up the middle by Tyler Hannah, who broke a tackle at the Westby 20-yard line and out-raced a Westby defender to the right corner of the goal line. The two-point conversion run by Ryan Hannah was good and the score was Westby 21, Viroqua 8 with 4:21 left in the third quarter.
With momentum appearing to shift toward the Blackhawks, Westby regained control of the contest, embarking on a 13-play 66-yard drive, burning up six minutes off the game clock, culminating in a 3-yrad touchdown plunge by Gluch. The two-point conversion try by Gluch was turned back and the final score was on the board, Westby 27, Viroqua 8.
After a slow first half, Tyler Hannah led the Blackhawks with 107 yards rushing and a touchdown. Diehl grabbed two passes for a team-high 34 receiving yards.
Looking to be back at full strength after an early season ankle injury, Diehl led the Blackhawks defense with 11.5 tackles, including two TFL’s.
Ryan Hannah was next with 8.5 tackles, a TFL and an interception, Tyler Hannah added seen tackles and a TFL, Sam Saner recorded 4.5 tackles with a TFL and Christian Schneider wrapped up 3.5 tackles, including 2 TFL’s.
“We failed to match their intensity at the beginning of the game,” coach Bill Hannah said. “We spotted them 21 points to start the game…that is a big hole to dig out of. I thought we came out in the second half and finished the game well. The second half was 8-6 us…now that doesn’t get us the win, but it shows we didn’t quit.”
The Blackhawks go to Arcadia Friday, Sept. 22, before returning to Blackhawk Field, Friday, Sept. 29, for a homecoming clash with Black River Falls.