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Four touchdown passes lift Tomah past Black River Falls

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Air Tomah took off from E.J. McKean Field Thursday.

One week after being grounded by a fog of incompletions in Mauston, the Tomah High School football team found its passing game and strafed Black River Falls 50-8 in a nonconference victory.

The win leaves Tomah with a 1-1 record heading into the Friday, Aug. 31 opener at West Salem.

Quarterback Justin Gerke threw four touchdown passes just six days after a rough outing at Mauston, where he completed just six of 24 attempts. Tomah coach Brad Plueger said the turnaround was the result of looking at the film from the previous week and determining that “everything is fixable.”

“We believe in what we do,” Plueger said.

It took nearly 1 ½ quarters for the fixes to impact the scoreboard. The Timberwolves came up empty on their first three possessions, and the Tigers might have taken the lead if not for a dropped pass deep in Tomah territory.

A turnover finally ignited the Tomah offense. Tomah linebacker Nolan Young recovered a Black River Falls fumble at the Tigers’ 45-yard line, and the Timberwolves launched a quick five-play drive capped by Eric Gomez’s nine-yard touchdown run. Gomez ran for the two-point conversion to put Tomah ahead 8-0 with 7:35 left in the second period.

The defense produced another turnover on the Tigers’ next drive. Tomah linebacker Kade Gnewikow intercepted a pass at midfield and returned it to the Black River Falls 23.

Six plays later on a fourth-and-eight, Gerke rolled to his left and lofted a pass toward Boone Mathison, who made a jumping catch in the left corner of the end zone. Justin Gerke passed to Mason Gerke for the two-point conversion for a 16-0 advantage.

Black River Falls responded with a drive during which quarterback Elliot Bird completed four straight passes to the Tomah 33. However, another dropped pass on fourth down − one that could have easily been a touchdown − halted the drive, and Tomah made the Tigers pay for the lost opportunity. Justin Gerke found Mason Gerke for a 44-yard pass down the right sideline, and the next play was a seven-yard touchdown pass from Justin Gerke to Damien Hernandez.

Justin Gerke passed to Young for the two-point conversion, and Tomah headed into halftime with a 24-0 lead.

The Timberwolves took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 62 yards in eight plays with Nathan Spears scoring on a one-yard run.

Black River Falls scored on its ensuing possession, when Bird connected with Ethan Bible on a 58-yard pass. Bird passed to the Bible for the two-point conversion that cut the gap to 30-8 with 7:04 left in the fourth quarter.

Tomah dominated the final 1 ½ quarters. The defense allowed just one more first down, and the Timberwolves scored more three touchdowns − a pair of scores from Justin Gerke to Mason Gerke and a five-yard scamper by Gomez untouched to the end zone.

The Gerke-to-Gerke connection was particularly effective for the Timberwolves. Mason Gerke, the tight end, caught three passes for 68 yards. Plueger said Mason Gerke brings athleticism to the position.

“We knew he could stretch the field for us,” Plueger said;. “His blocking has gotten so much better since he put on a little weight.”

Plueger was happy with how Justin Gerke, a sophomore, bounced back to complete 70 percent of his pass attempts. Many of those completions came on roll outs.

“We didn’t want him just sitting there in the pocket,” Plueger said.

Defensively, Tomah held Black River Falls to 156 total yards. Plueger made a personnel change with sophomore Ethan McClurg at cornerback, and Plueger liked what he saw.

“He and Boone (Mathison) give us a lot of speed at the corners,” Plueger said.

Young and Jairon Pierce got quarterback sacks, and Bird was forced throw early or off-balance on most of his pass attempts. Plueger said the defensive line “got pressure (on the quarterback) and controlled the line of scrimmage. I was happy with how they played.”

Tomah’s next home game is a Friday, Sept. 7 contest against MVC rival Sparta.

Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at

Black River Falls;00;00;08;00−08


Second quarter

T—Gomez 9 run (Gomez run), 7:35.

T—Mathison 11 pass from J. Gerke (M. Gerke pass from J. Gerke), 4:12.

T—Hernandez 7 pass from J. Gerke (Young pass from J. Gerke), :26.

Third quarter

T—Spears 1 run (kick failed), 8:43.

B—Bible 58 pass from Bird (Bible pass from Bird), 7:04.

T—M. Gerke 19 pass from J. Gerke (pass failed), 2:40.

Fourth quarter

T—M. Gerke 5 pass from J. Gerke (kick failed), 8:25.

T—Gomez 5 run (Gomez run), 6:30.


First downs—B 6, T 24, Rushing—BRF 24-52, T 41-169. Passes—B 7-22-1, T 14-20-0. Passing yards—B 104, T 167. Penalties—B 8-76, T 3-25. Fumbles—B 1-1, T 1-1.


Rushing: B—Bird 9-24, Goodbear 6-20, Zukowski 2-(-1), Bible 2-3, Yaeger 1-6, Johnson 3-(-4), Zillmer 1-4. T—Spears 18-63, Gomez 11-56, Burkhalter 5-28, Westpfahl 2-9, Mathison 1-1, J. Gerke 1-3, Young 2-7, Arttus 1-2.

Passing: B—Bird 7-22-1-104. T—J. Gerke 14-20-0-167.

Receiving: B—Bible 3-65, Recob 2-15, Ulness 1-15, Yaeger 1-9. T—Hernandez 4-42, Mathison 4-33, M. Gerke 3-68, Gnewikow 2-15, Burkhalter 1-9.


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