REEDSBURG, Wis. — After 12 minutes of play Friday night at Millenium Field, it appeared the Logan High School football team was headed for a frustrating blowout loss in the second round of the WIAA Division 3 playoffs.
Instead, the never-say-die Rangers are headed to the state quarterfinals for the second consecutive season behind a dominating defensive front and a playmaker who finally got a chance to show what he can do.
Third-seeded Logan held second-seeded Reedsburg to just 71 rushing yards over the final three quarters, and Aric Elmore had an electrifying 95-yard kick return as the Rangers beat the Beavers 21-15 to earn a state quarterfinal home game against Mount Horeb/Barneveld at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We’re an aggressive defense, but sometimes we need to get the feel of the game before we get after it,” said senior Calvin Wright, who had two sacks and rushed for 24 yards. “But we never give up. Every player, every play.”
It wasn’t until the third quarter that Logan (9-2) ran a play in Reedsburg territory.
It came after an 8-yard punt — Reedsburg (9-2) kicked away from Elmore most of the night, and the constant angling of punts may have disrupted the Beavers’ punter — set Logan up at the Beavers 35. Logan coach Casey Knoble opened up the playbook a bit and called for three consecutive passes, the third of which was a slant to Elmore for a 21-yard score and some much-needed momentum.
“That’s really what we needed,” Knoble said, “because we sure shot ourselves in the foot early. When that happened, it seemed like the powder keg was lit and we really took off.”
Reedsburg fumbled on its next play, giving Logan the ball at the 30. On fourth down at the 25, Peter Heglund-Lohman came down with a juggling catch of a Mitchell Schreiner pass in the end zone, and just like that, Logan had a 14-10 lead.
Reedsburg answered with a long kick return by Dylan Peterson, who finished with 103 yards on 14 carries and caught two passes for 35 yards, but Logan turned away the Beavers inside the 5 and they settled for a 21-yard field goal by Tyler Arneson, his second short kick of the game.
Whatever momentum Reedsburg gained with the points was short-lived, as the Beavers, for the first time all game, kicked it directly to Elmore, who didn’t seem to be touched as he raced 95 yards down the middle of the field for a 21-13 lead.
“They put me in the middle because they kept kicking (to the other side),” Elmore said. “I didn’t think they were going to kick it to me. But they did. I was very surprised.”
It was the fifth touchdown return of a punt or kick this season for Elmore, who’s had several called back because of penalties.
“I looked all over before I started to celebrate,” Knoble said. “But it was great. It was a great play.”
From there, the Rangers turned the game over to their defense, which put the clamps on a Reedsburg offense that was averaging 31 points and 278 rushing yards per game.
“Their defense did a nice job,” Reedsburg coach Brian Pottinger said. “We had no answer. We tried a bunch of formations and things like that, but couldn’t get anything that worked. They were just way more aggressive than we were. I give them a lot of credit.”
The Beavers, who picked up a safety with 6 minutes left to cut the lead to 21-15, put together one last drive and had a first down at the Logan 12 with 3 minutes left before the Rangers’ defense came up big again. Reedsburg lost yards on a first-down run, fumbled the second-down snap, then Ben Witcraft came up with a sack on third down. A fourth-down halfback pass fell incomplete.
“I gotta give as much credit to (assistants) Ben Wopat and Brock Harney as I can,” Knoble said. “These guys have created a heck of an option scheme. They make it very tough on teams.”
They’ll have to come up with a new plan next week against Mount Horeb/Barneveld (8-3), a passing team which beat top-seeded Lodi 40-14 and is coached by Logan grad Travis Rohrer.
“It would be amazing,” Knoble said of hosting a state quarterfinal game at Logan. “I’m just so proud of these guys for their effort. It means a lot for us, for the conference and the program. I’m speechless. I’m beyond words.”