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High school football: Onalaska's first half too much for Tomah
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ONALASKA 39, TOMAH 13

High school football: Onalaska's first half too much for Tomah

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TOMAH -- The first half had a little bit of everything for the Onalaska High School football team — 348 yards of total offense, four penalties, two lost fumbles, a field goal and a safety.

All that, plus mixing social distancing protocols with X's and O's.

The Hilltoppers managed to take all the COVID-19 uncertainties in stride in a 39-13 victory over the Tomah Timberwolves at Tomah's E.J. McKean Field Friday. It was the opener for both teams, although it wasn't the opening matchup either team anticipated. A spike in COVID-19 cases forced Westby and Sparta — the original opponents for Onalaska and Tomah — to slam the brakes on extracurricular activities. The Onalaska-Tomah matchup didn't come together until Thursday morning.

"Whoever is left on Thursday, you put their names in a hat, you pick a team and you play somebody," Onalaska coach Tom Yashinsky said. "You don't know what the schedule is going to be."

The Hilltoppers wasted no time proving why they were anxious for the season to start. They ripped off consecutive gains of 24, 8 and 11 yards in their first possession before Albert Romero burst through an enormous hole up the middle on a 10-yard touchdown run.

Onalaska fumbled away its second possession, but its third series produced a seven-play, 67-yard drive that ended with Michael Savarin's three-yard touchdown run.

The Hilltoppers got a safety on a botched Tomah punt and then scored 17 points in the final 2:10 of the first half. After Onalaska quarterback Ayden Larson hit Hudson Weber with an 11-yard touchdown strike, the Hilltoppers' defense forced a quick three-and-out. Nick Odom returned a Tomah punt 27 yards to the Tomah 43, where the Hilltoppers needed just six plays and 40 seconds to cap a drive with a nine-yard Larson touchdown run.

Ben Fass then intercepted a Tomah pass, and after Larson ran 15 yards to the Tomah 20, Fass booted a 37-yard field goal for a 32-0 Hilltoppers lead at intermission.

Larson gave credit to a veteran offensive line that controlled the line of scrimmage.

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"It all started with our linemen," Larson said. "They did a heck of a job opening lanes for us ... I was really proud of our line."

Defensively in the first half, Onalaska stymied a Tomah offense that's returning to a run-oriented wing-T attack under first-year coach Joe Protz after a year of running the spread. The Timberwolves produced just six rushing yards in the first half.

"We turned back the clock and watched some 2010 and 2013 film," Yashinsky said.

Tomah played much better in the second half. Evan Westpfahl scored Tomah's first touchdown of the season on a two-yard run that capped a nine-play, 67-yard drive.

The Timberwolves scored again when quarterback Justin Gerke rolled to the left and found Luke Buckendahl down the sideline for a 66-yard touchdown strike.

"Our effort was there," Protz said. "I'm proud of the kids on how they adjusted. We had some good opportunities in the first half, but we didn't make some plays that would have put us in a better position."

Yashinsky hopes to clean up his team's mistakes but said some of them were inevitable.

"I knew ball security would be an issue," he said. "We're behind where we want to be with X's and O's. The time hasn't been put into it because of so much other stuff."

Yashinsky said he and his players are still grateful for any football time at all. He said everything associated with COVID-19 makes him appreciate his time as coach.

"The best part of my day is 3:30 to 6," he said. "In a world that's really crazy right now, it gives you something to experience. It's the smiles on the kids' faces that makes it worth it."

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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