LA CROSSE—Tomah High School football coach Brad Plueger wasn’t counting style points Saturday.
Plueger and his players, many of whom were jayvee players suddenly thrust into varsity roles, were all smiles are the way home after holding off La Crosse Aquinas 27-20 in a Mississippi Valley Conference football game played over two days at UW-La Crosse’s Memorial Stadium. The game was suspended midway through the second quarter Friday due to lightning and completed Saturday afternoon.
Aquinas nearly came back from a 21-0 deficit to snap a 15-game MVC losing streak, but Plueger said a tense second half didn’t diminish the victory.
“I told them however we got it done, a win is a win,” Plueger said. “Our kids came through in the end.”
The victory snapped the Timberwolves’ five-game losing streak and improved their overall record to 3-5.
Early in the contest, it looked like the Timberwolves were on their way to an easy win. Onalaska’s first possession of the game lasted just 55 seconds, and Tomah took a punt at its own 30, where it launched 12-play touchdown drive. The scoring play came on a 21-yard inside reverse to wide receiver Trey Gnewikow, who ran untouched to the end zone. Plueger elected for the two-point conversion in the driving rainstorm, and Dawson Ollendick ran for the two points and an 8-0 Tomah lead.
Aquinas’ next possession was three-and-out, and a short punt gave the Timberwolves possession on the Blugolds’ 43. Fullback Wade Miller kept Tomah’s drive alive with a three-yard run on fourth-and-one, and on the next play, halfback Isaac Klema broke loose on a 20-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion failed, and Tomah had a 14-0 lead.
The two teams exchanged possessions before the game was suspended at the 5:56 mark of the second period.
The first play after Saturday’s resumption was a 64-yard punt by Tomah’s Nate Hausman that rolled dead at the Aquinas six. The Blugolds were held to another three-and-out, and Tomah scored its next touchdown on an eight-play, 47-yard drive that ended with wide receiver Kyle Kroener catching a 19-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone from quarterback Peter Brey.
With the rain not quite as heavy Saturday, Plueger opted for the extra point kick, which Kroener made for a 21-0 Tomah halftime lead.
Plueger said the offense did a good job in the first half running the ball in drenched conditions. The Timberwolves didn’t lose a fumble the entire game.
“We executed our game plan with the run ... and threw the football just enough to keep them honest,” Plueger said.
The Blugolds seized the momentum on the first play of the second half. They recovered an onside kick and then fed the ball to Nick Cambio for nine rushes on a 10-play drive that ended with Cambio’s five-yard touchdown run.
The Timberwolves punted the ball right back, and Aquinas drove 57 yards in 11 plays, capped by Jacob Salvodelli’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Merfeld. Conley Malone ran for the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 21-14.
The drive was particularly costly for the Timberwolves, who lost two-way lineman Trevor Shutter after a chop-block penalty. Tomah’s next possession was another three-and-out, but Tomah’s defense stopped a long Aquinas drive inside the 10-yard line.
Tomah produced just 15 yards on its next drive, but Hausman flipped field position with another booming punt that traveled 49 yards to the Blugolds’ 23. Two penalties forced Aquinas into a fourth-and-18, and a botched punt attempt gave Tomah the ball at the Aquinas two with two minutes left in the contest.
The Timberwolves cashed in with a one-yard touchdown run by Ollendick, and the game appeared decided with Tomah ahead 27-14 with 1:48 left.
Aquinas still made the Timberwolves sweat. They took the ensuing kickoff and needed just four plays and 49 seconds to score a touchdown that cut the gap to 27-20.
The Blugolds then recovered an onside kick at midfield, but the Tomah defense forced four straight incompletions, the last of which was tipped away by linebacker Nolan Young.
Plueger said six junior varsity players − Ollendick, Kaden Hericks, Hayden Larson, Erick Gomez, Connor Perry and Jake Tahtinen − were playing defense in the fourth quarter.
“It was really good to see kids step up,” Plueger said.
Klema finished with 106 rushing yards and one touchdown. He has scored 12 touchdowns in eight games.
Tomah wraps up the season Friday, Oct. 13 with its homecoming contest against La Crosse Central at 7 p.m. at E.J. McKean Field. Plueger said the contest is important for both the seniors playing their final game and underclassmen who are suddenly getting lots of playing time.
“There is a ton riding on this game for us,” Plueger said.
Tomah 08 13 00 06−27
Aquinas 00 00 14 06−20
T—Gnewikow 21 run (Ollendick run) 4:27
T—Klema 21 run (pass failed) 10:58
T—Kroener 19 pass from Brey (Kroener kick) 2:06.
A—Cambio 5 run (pass failed) 8:46
A—Merfeld 9 pass from Salvodelli (Malone run) 2:58
T—Ollendick 1 run (run failed) 1:48
A—Merfeld 12 pass from Salvodelli (run failed) :52.
First downs—T 12, A 18. Rushing—T 43-142, A—46-189. Passes—T 4-7-0, A 11-26-0. Passing yards—T 34, A 101. Penalties—T 5-63, A 7-50. Fumbles—T 1-0, A 3-1.
Rushing: T—Klema 24-106, Gnewikow 2-19, Huneck 2-8, Brey 8-(-2), Miller 1-3, Ollendick 3-6, Kroener 1-2. A—Cambio 35-197, Salvodelli 6-3, Schlicht 3-4, Malone 2-(-16).
Passing: T—Brey 4-7-0-37. A—Salvodelli 11-26-0-101.
Receiving: T—Huneck 1-12, Klema 1-7, Kroener 1-19, Mathison 1-(-1). A—Merfeld 4-39, Cambio 1-5, Schlicht 2-15, Malone 3-32, Wetzel 1-10.
West Salem 6-0 7-1
Onalaska 5-1 7-1
Holmen 5-1 6-2
Central 3-3 4-4
Sparta 2-4 4-4
Logan 2-4 3-5
Tomah 1-5 3-5
Aquinas 0-6 0-8
Results of Oct. 7
Tomah 27 Aquinas 20
West Salem 9 Sparta 6
Onalaska 41 Central 0
Holmen 20 Logan 13