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UW-LA CROSSE 31, UW-PLATTEVILLE 10

UW-La Crosse football: Eagles secure 34th conference title with win over UW-Platteville

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Cam Sorenson

UW-La Crosse senior Cameron Sorenson signals a first down after a catch against UW-Platteville on Friday at Roger Harring Stadium. Sorenson had five catches for 139 yards.

The chants of “34, 34, 34” rang out from the UW-La Crosse football team’s locker room under the Roger Harring Stadium bleachers Saturday.

With a 31-10 victory over UW-Platteville, UW-L secured a share of their 34th conference championship, splitting the WIAC title with automatic bid recipient UW-Whitewater.

It didn’t take long after the game for coach Matt Janus to soon start wondering about a watch party for the Division III playoff bracket reveal Sunday where the Eagles (9-1, 6-1) will learn their plans moving forward. Until then, Janus said his team is going to soak in its achievement.

“We’re going to enjoy it,” Janus said. “Our guys and what we just had to go through these past three weeks, there’s nobody, not a soul, that played the schedule we just did. We had to battle through three of the best teams in the country to get to this spot. We’re going to enjoy the heck out of this and then we’ll figure it out.”

On senior day, it was a pair of graduating wide receivers that shined. Matthijs Enters had seven catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Cameron Sorenson had five catches for 139 yards, his season-high in both categories.

With sophomore quarterback Keyser Helterbrand out with a knee injury, Sorenson said he knew receivers would have to step up with senior quarterback Cade Garcia expected to lead the offense the rest of the way. Garcia finished with 289 passing yards and two touchdowns.

“All week we were talking about having to step up with Keyser out,” Sorenson said. “We just prepared this week knowing we were going to get it and we stepped up.”

Junior defensive end Jack Kelly continued to find his way into opposing backfields with a second-straight three sack game, including a strip sack in the end zone recovered for an Eagles touchdown.

Kelly now has 8 ½ sacks in the last three games combined — including back-to-back three sack games — and said he’s starting to find his strengths and weaknesses as a pass rusher.

“I’m not the biggest guy. I’m 220 pounds and most of the time going up against someone that’s about 100 pounds heavier than me,” Kelly said. “I think I play with pretty good technique and play relentlessly to the ball. Just trying to do my 1-11 for the team.”

The Eagles got out to a hot start, scoring on their first two possessions with touchdown passes by Garcia to sophomore wide receiver Ryan Bartol and Enters. The Pioneers (5-5, 4-3) punted away their first two possessions to make it 14-0 after a quarter.

“You want to start fast,” Garcia said. “We didn’t have the wind to start so I thought that was huge to put 14 points on them quickly and make them play from behind. All year, they’ve kind of relied on forcing turnovers and scoring on defense. We knew if we could control the game, not turn it over we’d be in good shape.”

Senior kicker and West Salem High School graduate Ryan Beirne made a 21-yard field goal early in the second quarter, setting the UW-L record for career field goals in his final regular season game. Beirne wouldn’t have as much luck on his next kick as a 40-yard attempt in the final minute was blocked.

The Eagles defense held strong to shutout UW-Platteville in the first half, including a fumble forced by Kelly and recovered by senior linebacker AJ Spychala. Spychala had a team-high eight tackles.

UW-Platteville had regained confidence following a 43-yard field goal and a UWL three-and-out to start the third quarter. Sophomore quarterback Michael Priami followed up a long completion to freshman Garrett Stare with a 34-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Jimmy Durocher.

Needing a rebound drive, the Eagles converted three third-and-long plays with a 13-yard catch by Sorenson, and a pair of over 19 yard catches by Enters. Senior running back Joey Stutzman capped off the drive with a four-yard touchdown run.

“We kept preaching to stay on schedule and we actually didn’t,” Janus said of his offense, which went 8-for-14 on third down conversions. “We kept getting knocked off and when you got a front four like those guys do getting tackles for loss, that pushed us off schedule and forced us to convert third and longs. Our offense did a phenomenal job with that.”

Kelly became a game-breaker in the fourth quarter with back-to-back sacks, the first one pushing UW-Platteville back 15 yards and the second forcing a fumble in the end zone. Senior defensive end Josh Dorschner recovered the ball for the score.

An interception in the final two minutes by freshman cornerback Tate Pitcher was the fourth and final turnover of the day by the Pioneers, including three in the second half.

“To be honest, the offense helped a lot with that,” Janus said. “Our thought process changed and it became about playing the clock, playing a little softer zone and that’s what we tried to do. We played very off with everything.”

The NCAA will announce the bracket for the Division III football playoffs at 4 p.m. Sunday.

James Krause can be reached by email at James.KrauseJr@lee.net or on Twitter @jkrausepro.

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