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WATCH NOW: High school football -- West Salem snaps losing streak with win over Tomah
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WEST SALEM 28, TOMAH 14

WATCH NOW: High school football -- West Salem snaps losing streak with win over Tomah

WEST SALEM — They celebrated under the goal posts near West Salem High School with fervor.

The Panthers had been waiting for this for a very long time, and they had themselves to thank for ending a 13-game losing streak with a 28-14 victory over Tomah on Friday night.

West Salem (1-1) stood up to the challenge at hand, never trailed and was effective on both sides of the ball to pick up a victory that's been tough to get for more than a year.

"It's great, and I'm happy for the kids and our coaching staff," West Salem coach Justin Jehn said. "There have been a lot of ups and downs here and a lot more downs recently, but the kids played well, and that makes it feel good."

The Panthers scored once in each quarter, and sophomore Luke Noel rushed for two touchdowns to help the them beat the Timberwolves (1-2) for the fourth time in five years.

Sophomore Brett McConkey made his first start as West Salem's quarterback and completed 12 of 18 passes for 114 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to junior Jack Hehli that answered an important Tomah touchdown early in the fourth.

"This is huge for us," said Hehli, who caught six passes for 82 yards and had an interception. "We were 0-9 last year, but we had some close games, and we eventually just got down on ourselves.

"This helps us regain our confidence and know we can win games."

Justin Jehn mug

Jehn

The Timberwolves didn't score until the final minute of the first half, and that cut West Salem's 14-point lead in half. A halfback option from Kade Gnewikow to Zander Williams covered 30 yards and put Tomah on the board with 50 seconds on the clock.

The Timberwolves finished that drive in the end zone and needed to after their first two possessions moved to the West Salem 35 but fizzled out with no points.

"I think those hurt because we didn't get any points on the board, and we could have fed off of that," Tomah coach Joe Protz said. "But give West Salem credit because they played hard and physical and made some big plays."

Three of those plays came on interceptions. Zack Niemeier, Zach Hutchinson and Hehli all intercepted Tomah quarterback Justin Gerke, who was 14-for-40 for 147 yards.

Hutchinson's pick in the second quarter set up a short drive that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run for Noel, who carried 11 times for 36 yards. That gave the Panthers the 14-0 lead they took into the final minute of the half.

McConkey led the Panthers with 56 rushing yards, and senior Collin DuMars added 51 and a 7-yard TD run in the first quarter.

Brandon Lueck rushed for 59 yards to lead Tomah's ground game, and Brookman caught three passes for 62 yards to lead receivers. Williams caught five passes for 60 and Luke Buckendahl four for 47.

West Salem, however, made its biggest plays after Gerke completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Drew Brookman with 9:26 left in the game.

With their lead cut to 21-14, the Panthers pieced together a drive that lasted 4:27 and featured conversions on three third-down snaps — all passes from McConkey to Hehli.

When McConkey drilled a 14-yard TD strike to Hehli in the front of the end zone with 4:59 left, West Salem had the momentum for good.

"He's like a lethal weapon," McConkey said of Hehli. "He has very good hands, and he can jump high and go get the ball when he needs to. All I have to do is throw it in his area, and I know he can get it."

The Panthers host Aquinas next Friday, while the Timberwolves travel to Prairie du Chien.

Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at todd.sommerfeldt@lee.net or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX

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