The Viroqua High School football team came into the 2017 season with just four seniors on the roster, having lost eight talented seniors to graduation, including all five team captains. Prior to the season head coach Bill Hannah was quoted as saying, “Losing those seniors meant that we lost our leaders and we are still looking for this year’s seniors to step into that role.”

Well last Friday night that small group of seniors took a giant step in fulfilling that role. Holding a slim 21-13 margin at intermission over Richland Center, coach Hannah said his seniors, “stepped up at halftime and challenged the rest of the guys to step up and play better.”

The challenge did not fall on deaf ears, as the Blackhawks offense exploded, scoring 26 points and the defense throttled the Hornets, limiting the RC quick strike offense to just eight second half points. The result was a 47-21 victory for the Blackhawks, in front of an appreciative Parents Night Crowd at Blackhawk Field. The dominating second half performance evened the Blackhawks season record at 2-2.

Senior quarterback Ryan Hannah led the offensive outburst, accounting for six touchdowns, five rushing, including all four second half scores for Viroqua on runs of 42, 34, 32 and 84 yards. Hannah also had an eight-yard TD run and a nine-yard touchdown pass in the first half, finishing the game with a career-high 279 rushing yards on 19 carries, completing 5 of 8 pass attempts for 48 yards, and ended the final Richland Center scoring threat with an interception in the end zone. For good measure Hannah also blocked an extra point kick by RC and recovered a blocked punt.

The Blackhawks put up some gaudy offensive statistics, including 498 yards rushing and 48 yards passing for total of 546 yards. “This was really a team win,” coach Hannah said. “The only way you put up that many yards, is with great blocking up front. Our O-line and fullback opened up huge holes for our backs to run through.”

That O-line coach Hannah referred to includes interior linemen senior Trent Berg, and juniors Christian Schneider, Sam Saner, Sawyer Felton and Braxton Cary. VHS tight ends are Brendan Ellefson, a senior, and juniors Anthony Rappl and junior Matt Klieber. The Blackhawks senior full back is Steve Diehl.

Despite dominating play in the first half offensively, the Blackhawk defense could not stop the Hornets quick strike passing attack, led by talented sophomore quarterback Rory Schultz, who threw for 260 yards in the game including long distance connections for 68, 61 and 33 yards in the first half alone.

Following the game, coach Hannah reflected on how his team responded after intermission. “We started out playing pretty flat in the first half. Football is an emotional sport and you have to play with emotion. We just really needed the guys to understand how good they can be.”

The Blackhawks opened the game with a six play 64-yard drive, capped off by a 20- yard touchdown scamper by sophomore tailback Tyler “Truck” Hannah. The point after kick by the younger Hannah was good and the Blackhawks had a 7-0 lead just over two minutes into the first quarter.

The Blackhawk defense forced a three-and-out on the Hornets first possession and promptly launched another scoring drive, this time covering 83 yards in just nine plays. The drive featured a key third down conversion on a screen pass from Ryan Hannah to Diehl covering 18 yards, setting up the first of Ryan Hannah’s five rushing scores. The extra point kick was no good and the Viroqua lead was 13-0 with 5:19 remaining on the first quarter clock.

That’s when the Hornets and Schultz unleashed their quick strike passing attack, needing just two plays and 19 seconds to answer on the 68 -yard touchdown pass to Miller. The point after kick was good and suddenly the lead was cut to 13-7.

The next VHS possession ended with a fumble by Truck Hannah and recovered by the Hornets at the Viroqua 43-yard line. The Blackhawk defense responded to the turnover with a solid defensive effort however, turning the ball back to the offense stopping the Hornets on a fourth and four on a tackle for loss by Truck Hannah on the fourth down play. On the ensuing series, the Blackhawks drove to the RC 2-yard line before Ryan Hannah was stopped short on a fourth and goal play at the Hornets 2-yard line.

It took the Hornets just nine plays and only three minutes off the scoreboard clock to cover the 98 yards, featuring a 32-yard pass from Schultz to Quin Tydrich and a 63-yard connection to Tydrich, setting up a one-yard scoring plunge from Schultz. Ryan Hannah blocked the extra point try and the score remained deadlocked at 13-13 with 7:37 left in the first half.

VHS junior Sam Jett returned the ensuing RC kickoff 32 yards, giving the Blackhawks excellent field position at the Viroqua 47-yard line. From there the Blackhawk offense needed just nine plays to score the go-ahead touchdown, coming on a nine-yard pass from Ryan Hannah to junior wide-receiver Andrew Wedwick. The two-point conversion run was good by Truck Hannah and the Blackhawks had the lead for good at 21-13 with 3:58 left in the first half.

The Viroqua defense set the tone for the second half on the Hornet opening possession with three tackles for loss in a nine-play series ending with a failed fourth down attempt at the Viroqua 19-yard line. Sawyer Felton recorded the first TFL on the drive with a 4-yard loss on a tackle of RC’s Sam Hart at the Hornets 45-yard line. Five plays later it was Trent Bergs turn with a TFL on Hart for a one-yard loss, and Jett closed out the trio of TFL’s, dropping Schultz for a three-yard loss at Viroqua 19. Anthony Rappl ended the Hornet drive on the next fourth down and five-play, with a tackle of RC’s Miller for a one-yard gain.

The RC defense also stiffened in the third quarter and turned the Blackhawks away with a three and out series. The next RC possession ended in similar fashion, with another flurry of tackles for loss by the Viroqua defense led by a 2-yard TFL by Felton and a tackle for a four- yard loss by Christian Schneider, resulting in a punt by the Hornets. Following back-to-back three and outs by the suddenly effective defenses of both teams, the Blackhawks set up their offense at their own 45-yard line with just over a minute to go in the third quarter.

It took the Blackhawks just two plays to cover the 55 yards, the first a 13-yard burst by Ryan Hannah and the second a 42-yard dash from the senior signal caller, thanks to the great blocking by his VHS teammates. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Blackhawks never looked back, adding three more fourth quarter touchdowns all by Ryan Hannah, while allowing one more score by RC, making the final score Viroqua 47-21.

The Blackhawks closed out the game proving they could be a ball-hawking defense as well, with Wedwick ending one fourth quarter Hornet drive with a nifty interception of a Schultz pass at the Viroqua 21-yard line and Hannah closed out the final drive with a pick of his own in the VHS end zone as time expired.

In a classy move by the Viroqua coaches, and in recognition of Parent’s Night, senior Brett Skrede, who has had to sit out the season with a medical issue, and is on the team as a student coach, dressed for the game and was sent into the game to attempt a two-point conversion pass attempt in the fourth quarter.

Rappl led the balanced Viroqua defensive effort recording seven tackles, including two sacks and two TFL’s, Diehl chipped in with six tackles including a pair of TFL’s, Truck Hannah was credited with five-and-one-half tackles and two TFL’s, Saner also had five-and-one-half tackles and one TFL, Jett had five tackles and a TFL, Ryan Hannah four tackles, Berg four tackles and two TFL’s, Felton three tackles and a TFL, and Schneider two tackles and a TFL.

Offensively it was Ryan Hannah with the big statistical night followed by Truck Hannah also with a 200-yard night, with 205 rushing yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Diehl and Wedwick led the Blackhawk receivers with two catches each, Diehl’s for a team high 31 yards and Wedwick’s pair good for 13 yards and a touchdown.

Viroqua hosts rival Westby, Friday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m. It’s the first Coulee Conference match-up for both teams.