Heading into the last two weeks of the regular season the Viroqua football team was having their most successful year since the 2004 campaign, with an overall record of 5-2 and needing just one more win in their final two Coulee Conference games to secure a spot in the upcoming WIAA playoffs. The WIAA tournament normally requires teams to have at least a .500 record in conference play to qualify for post-season play.
The problem was that the final two games would square the Blackhawks up against two of the most successful programs in the Coulee Conference as they sought to add one more win to their 2-2 Coulee mark and seal a trip to the playoffs.
Despite a valiant effort Friday, Oct. 5, the Blackhawks came up on the short-end of a 40-20 score to two-time defending Coulee champs G-E-T. That meant that Friday, Oct. 12, the Hawks would need a win against a red-hot and senior-laden Westby (7-1 and 4-0) team, looking to wrap up an undefeated conference season and claim an out-right conference championship.
The Norsemen, with 22 seniors on the roster, had plenty of motivation as they played in front of a huge homecoming crowd during which the school recognized the 1978 WIAA state championship team, the first in school history and the 1998 Norse squad.
Westby grabbed an early 7-0 first quarter lead and after the Blackhawks battled back to cut the margin to 7-6 with a touchdown of their own in the second quarter, the Norsemen scored 21 unanswered points and held on to defeat their rivals, 35-20.
A key turning point in the game came late in the first half with Westby holding the 7-6 advantage. After stopping Westby on downs at the Viroqua 23-yard line, the Blackhawks took possession of the ball with just 1:23 left on the first half clock. Viroqua ran three running play in an attempt to run out the clock, but Westby utilized all three of their remaining time-outs and forced a Viroqua punt with :58 left before halftime.
It took the hosts just three plays and 27 seconds to cover the 50 yards, with the final 27 yards coming on a 39-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Gluch to wide-receiver Nolan Rux, giving the Norse a 14-6 halftime lead.
After a three and out by Viroqua to open the second half, the Norsemen exploded to score two more unanswered touchdowns. The first came on a three-play drive, featuring a 77-yard pass connection from Gluch to Ryan Daines. Daines would strike again, following a quick three-and-out punt by Viroqua, breaking free for a 69-yard run to pay-dirt on the first play of the drive. The Hawks suddenly found themselves trailing 28-6 with 6:57 left in the third quarter.
The two teams traded a touchdown each before the end of the high scoring third quarter and the Blackhawks added a fourth-quarter touchdown to make the final 35-20.
Viroqua’s first half score came at the end of a 10-play 49-yard drive capped off by a nine-yard touchdown pass from Kasey Hammond to Andrew Wedwick. The key play on the drive was a 15-yard completion from Hammond to Christian Schneider and a 15-yard personal foul penalty against the Norsemen on the play, setting up the Blackhawks at the Westby 13-yard line.
The Blackhawks next score was a four-yard scoring toss from Hammond to Wedwick, which culminated a nine-play 70-yard drive. The scoring march featured seven rushes by Viroqua tailback Tyler Hannah for 56 yards during the drive, highlighted by a 38-yard bruising run on a 3rd down and five from Viroqua’s own 35-yard line to the Westby 37 yard-line.
Hammond connected with Wedwick again, this time on the two-point conversion try and the lead had been cut to 28-14. The Norsemen answered however, in lightning quick fashion again, needing just three plays to cover 47 yards following the recovery of a Viroqua on-side kick attempt. Gunnar Hanson punched the ball into the end-zone on a four-yard burst, following a 33-yard strike, from Gluch to Dawson Marshall to set up the first and goal opportunity.
Viroqua would add a fourth quarter score as Hammond found the endzone from one-yard out, following a 13-play 59-yard march, highlighted by a 20-yard completion from Hammond to Schneider on a third-and-seven conversion early on in the drive.
The Blackhawks defense, which has been solid all season as proven by four shutout wins and an overtime shutout of Arcadia despite a 6-3 double overtime loss to the Raiders held the Norsemen a touchdown shy of their 42 point per game season average. Jared Anderson led the Hawks defense with seven tackles, Hannah added 5.5 tackles including a sack and a pair of tackles-for-loss.
If you looked at the stat sheet you would have expected to see a much closer score, especially when looking at what are normally key indicators in determining the outcome of a game. Each team had 16 first downs in the contest, Viroqua held the edge in time of possession 26:20 to Westby’s 21:40, Viroqua converted on 53% (8/15) of their third-down attempts, Westby was successful just 35 percent of the time on third down (5/14) and the Norsemen were whistled for 11 penalties for a total of 110 yards, while Viroqua was guilty of only two infractions for 15 yards.
Despite having narrowly missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, VHS head coach Bill Hannah is very proud of his Blackhawk team. “It was a very successful year. We battled in every game…I believe as you look at our season you will see great strides and improvement. I am very proud of these young men and how they came together…it was an honor to coach them. These seniors will be missed, they led our team with great work ethic and a passion for the game. I’m excited to watch what they accomplish as they move onto their other activities in school and beyond.”
Viroqua has slowly but surely added to them win column during Hannah’s coaching tenure at the school and the fifth-year head coach is already looking forward with optimism to the 2019 campaign. “As for next year, we will return a great group of players, if we can recruit a few more players to our team great things will happen. It is so important in a school our size that our athletes are involved in multiple sports,” Hannah said. “Not only does it improve them as athletes it also increases the rapport amongst our high school students and their high school experience.”
Snapshot of the game
Total yards: Westby 391, Viroqua 213
Passing: Westby Gluch 8/13-202- 2 TD Viroqua Hammond 10/19, 81, 2 TDs 2 int.
Rushing: Westby 33/189, Daines 16/136 2 TDs Viroqua 36/132 1 TD, Hannah 30/121
Receiving: Westby-Daines 2/85 TD Viroqua Wedwick 8/46 2 TDs