Justin Gerke started all nine games at quarterback for the Tomah Timberwolves last season, but it was Evan Long who was named the starter for Friday’s game against Mauston.
It took just one quarter for Gerke to reclaim the job.
Gerke took over for Long in the second quarter, and the change coincided with the launch of the Tomah offense. Gerke directed three touchdown drives, and they were enough to produce a 20-14 nonconference victory over the Golden Eagles at Tomah’s E.J. McKean Field.
Gerke started the game at wide receiver and caught a pass before switching positions with Long after Tomah’s third offensive series. Tomah’s first three possessions generated just one first down, and Tomah coach Brad Plueger turned to his more experienced signal caller.
“I thought Evan started a little bit too risky, and I thought, ‘Hey, let’s just get the ball rolling a little bit,’” Plueger said.
Gerke directed Tomah’s fourth drive, a nine-play, 75-yard march that ended with Nathan Spears’ 15-yard touchdown run and a 6-0 Timberwolves lead.
After a short Mauston punt, Gerke connected with Boone Mathison on a 20-yard fade pattern to the Mauston 10-yard line. Two plays later, Gerke scored on a one-yard keeper and tossed a two-point conversion pass to Mathison for a 14-0 Tomah lead.
Gerke had a touchdown pass called back on a penalty in the third quarter, but Tomah still scored on the drive when Spears converted a fourth-and-one play into a 17-yard touchdown and a 20-7 Tomah lead.
The Timberwolves struggled to put Mauston away. The Golden Eagles blocked a punt in Tomah territory midway through the fourth quarter and used the short field to execute a five-play, 35-yard touchdown drive with 4:29 left.
Tomah responded with a clock-killing drive that featured runs of 11, 4, 9 and 10 yards by Spears. The drive drained all but the last 18 seconds of the clock.
Gerke completed six of 11 passes for 60 yards and an interception. His favorite target was Long, who caught three passes for 23 yards and was the only Tomah receiver to make more than one reception.
Plueger said the competition for the starting quarterback job has been a positive for the team.
“Both of the guys are handling the situation with a lot maturity,” said Plueger. “Both are going to be in the mix all year, and they’re going to compete again next week.”
It was a big night for the Tomah secondary, which put the clamps on a Mauston passing game that featured returning quarterback Cade Hall, who led the Golden Eagles to a South Central Conference championship last year. Hall was 15 of 34 for 149 yards.
It was the debut of Tomah’s spread offense, and Plueger said his players have embraced the new system.
“Their confidence is big,” Plueger said. “I could see it at Thursday’s practice just how excited they were to play the game of football. We haven’t had that in a few years.”