Elk Mound football history: Part 2 – 1980s bring rushing records, state tourney runner up trophy for Mounders

by Marlys Kruger, Messenger Sports

As mentioned in the first part of this series, when Dave Lew took over as head coach for the Elk Mound football team this year, he became just the fourth coach in team history since the program started in 1965. To put things in perspective, since 1965, Colfax has had 14 head coaches with Tim Wilson leading the Vikings for 13 of those years. Part two of Elk Mound’s football history continues with 39 year veteran coach Dan Pedersen as he begins the 1980 season.

 With Pedersen and his Elk Mound football team ending the 1979 season with a record of 7-2 for second place in the conference behind Prescott and Glenwood City, the team used a powerful defense to go 7-1 in conference play in 1980, finishing one game behind Prescott again. The Mounders lost their first game of the season 6-0 to Prescott as the Cardinal’s only score came off an interception. They beat Glenwood City 8-0 as Jon Solem scored on a two yard run with just 38 seconds left in the game and a Bruce Myers to Solem two point conversion pass sealed the win. They also shut out a powerful Spring Valley squad 14-0 in a game Pedersen called “the best defensive game we’ve played since I’ve been here” by holding Spring Valley to 106 total yards. Another shutout to the tune of 40-0 came against Plum City as Solem and Jon Rode both scored twice with one of Rode’s TDs coming from a 27 yard interception while Pat Varpness scored his first TD of the season on a 12 yard run. Still one game behind Prescott going into the final game, Elk Mound needed some help from neighboring Colfax if they wanted at least a tie for the conference championship. The Vikings did their best but lost in the final minute of the game to Prescott, thus giving the Cardinals the title. Elk Mound finished first in the conference in offensive stats and second for defense.

Things went downhill for a couple of years as the Mounders won just one game in 1981 which happened to be the first one of the season against New Auburn. They finished 3-6 in the 1982 season, again starting with a win over New Auburn with Varpness and Tony Steen both scoring two rushing touchdowns. They were up 14-0 over Colfax at the half on a Varpness TD run and a Jim Price to Kevin Rhodes 23 yard scoring pass but they couldn’t hold on, dropping the contest 16-14. They went downhill for a while, losing three straight games and getting shut out all three times before pulling off an 8-7 upset win over Prescott. They were behind until the closing minutes when Price scored on a QB sneak and Randy Rhude ran in the two point conversion. After a 28-14 loss to Elmwood, Rhude ran for three touchdowns in a 22-0 win over Plum City but they ended the season on a sour note, getting shut out again 31-0 against Spring Valley. John Ayres was the only Mounder named to the All Conference team, making the second team as a defensive end and an offensive guard.

It was back to a winning season in ‘83 with Scott Myers and Randy Rhude carrying the load from the running back position as both of them rushed for over 100 yards in a game several times. In a 36-30 win over Elmwood, Myers finished with 141 yards and Rhude 112 and they both scored a pair of rushing TDs in a 30-21 win over Colfax. Elk Mound finished the season 6-3 with Myers leading the conference in rushing with 704 yards while Rhude was second with 668 and also was first in scoring with 74 points. Larry Lemler was named First Team All Northwest while Rhude was Special Mention.

They didn’t tear up the conference in ‘84 but they managed to finish above .500 for the year, 5-4 overall and 5-3 in conference. Price was still at quarterback while Myers was the running back but was joined in the backfield by sophomore Dave O Mara. Price completed scoring passes to several receivers in the first half of the season including Tim Malnory, Jeff Brenden and Kevin Rhodes but was replaced later in the season by another sophomore, Paul Heimstead. Myers and O’Mara both ran for over 100 yards in several games and O’Mara ran for 204 yards and three TDs in a 34-11 win over St. Croix Central, ending his season as the first Mounder to rush for more then 1,000 yards with 1,032. He was selected First team All Conference on offense along with Jonas DeMoe while Kevin Rhodes was First Team Defense and Malnory and John Scharlau were Second Team offense.

Close but no cigar

The Mounders stormed out of the gate to start the ‘85 season with a 32-0 win over Eleva-Strum followed by a 46-0 win in conference play over Pepin. With Myers and O’Mara still a double threat, Thad Schumacher was now added to the mix of running backs. All three of them scored against Eleva-Strum with O’Mara reaching pay dirt twice, and in the Pepin game in which the defense gave up just 43 total yards, Myers and O’Mara both came up with a pair of TDs, Schumacher added another, Plaszcz scored on a 73 yard fumble recovery and Ryan Paulson raced to the endzone on a 49 yard punt return.

The defense was outstanding although they lost 8-0 to Glenwood City as the Hilltoppers scored their only points on a safety and a pass interception. The Mounders went on to win the rest of their games to finish 8-1 in the conference, tied with Glenwood City for the conference title. Back in those days, you had to win the conference outright to move on to playoffs and because the Mounders lost that game to the Hilltoppers earlier in the year, the playoff berth went to Glenwood City. Pedersen had his first duo team of 1,000 yard rushers as Myers ran for 1,303 yards on the season while O’Mara rushed for 1,121.

Pedersen’s first conference title

The ‘85 season was just a springboard for 1986 as the Mounders dominated the conference, going 9-0 and 10-0 overall. The team gave up just 47 points total to opposing teams as they averaged over 30 points a game themselves. After starting the season with a 33-6 win over Eleva-Strum, they got their revenge on Glenwood City as they crushed them 37-0. Quarterback Heimstead threw a pair of TD passes to Plaszcz in that game, and they followed up with a 28-0 win over Prescott. Schumacher had his best game of the season offensively as he rushed for 191 yards and four TDs in a 43-14 win over Elmwood and O’Mara and Schumacher combined for 265 rushing yards in a 34-0 whitewashing of Plum City. They followed up by beating Spring Valley 41-7 and after a scoreless first half against Colfax, Elk Mound took command and scored three times for a 21-0 win. In their closest game of the season, they pulled out a 13-7 win over St. Croix Central as Cary Gundlach carried the ball only two times for the team and scored touchdowns on both carries. After a 21-0 win against Boyceville, they pounded Pepin 40-19 with five different players scoring. Pepin scored first in the game on a kickoff return and that was the first time all season the Mounders were behind in a game.

Making their first trip to the WIAA playoffs, the Mounders fell behind 27-0 to Clear Lake, partly by fumbling the ball four times, before O’Mara and Schumacher scored fourth quarter touchdowns. Schumacher finished the year with 1,443 rushing yards.

It was a tale of two different teams in 1987 as the Mounders appeared to be on their way to another conference title when they won their first five games including a 9-7 win over Prescott, 21-6 over Elmwood, 7-3 against Plum City in which they held the Blue Devils to 14 total yards, 35-0 over Spring Valley with the defense dominating again by holding the Cardinals to 24 total yards and 21-0 over Colfax. The win over the Vikings saw the emergence of sophomore quarterback W.J. Vincent who threw a TD pass to Jason Stamm while Tate Zurbuchen and Charlie Storing both scored a rushing touchdown. But a 17-8 loss to St. Croix Central knocked them out of the conference lead and that game was followed by a 6-0 loss to Boyceville, another shutout loss 14-0 to Pepin-Arkansas and a season ending loss to Glenwood City 20-14, leaving their record at 5-4. Named to the All Conference first team for the Mounders were Rick Anderson, Jeff Thomas and Craig Koller on the offensive line while Zurbuchen was second team running back and Bryan Christopherson was second team defensive line.

The 1988 season looked promising again as the Mounders won their first three games. In a 25-14 win over Elmwood, Vincent passed for 211 yards with TD passes to Storing and Randy Paulson while Zurbuchen hit paydirt twice. They pulled out a 13-12 win in the fourth quarter against Plum City as Vincent led the team on a 90 yard drive culminating in a 16 yard scoring pass to David Rhude. Their first score came after Trevor Linberg recovered a fumble on the Plum City four yard line and Nick Zimbauer, replacing an injured Zurbuchen, ran the ball in from two yards out. Paulson’s kick proved to be the winner. Although they won 26-0 over Spring Valley, injuries were a problem for the Mounders as Paulson was dealing with a case of mononucleosis and Zimbauer and Zurbuchen were hurt. The defense helped out as Linberg and Storing both had an interception that led to Elk Mound scores. But in a typical Elk Mound-Colfax game, the Vikings were up 14-0 at the half on Josh Gullickon’s two TD runs of 82 yards and one yard before the Mounders roared back with three scores in the second quarter, all on passes with Vincent hitting Storing, then T.J. Zimbauer and with 18 seconds left in the half, connected with Storing again after completing five straight passes. Brett Fillstrup picked off a Vincent pass in the third quarter and raced 65 yards to knot the score at 20-20 and after the Mounders lost a pair of fumbles in the fourth quarter, the game went into overtime. Another lost fumble on the goaline by the Mounders allowed Colfax to take the ball and current assistant coach for the Vikings, Jeff Prince had his finest moment when he booted a 13 yard field goal to win the game.

The loss took the wind out of the Mounders sails temporarily as they were bombed 35-0 by Central but they came back to beat a 5-0 Boyceville team the following week 13-7. The Bulldogs had won all of their games by shutouts so the Mounders were the first team to score on them all season with Zurbuchen scoring from a yard out with a Paulson kick. After stuffing the Boyceville offense on the one yard line to keep the score at 7-7, Vincent directed an 89 yard drive finishing it with a six yard pass to Stamm. A big 41-6 win over Pepin-Arkansaw followed but an even bigger 40-0 loss to Glenwood City knocked the Mounders out of playoff contention a week later. They ended the season with a 14-6 loss to Prescott on a controversial play when a Cardinal player recovered an Elk Mound fumbled punt, and although it appeared his knee was down, he pitched the ball to a teammate who ran it in for the winning score. Vincent passed for 1,292 for the season and led the conference with a 57% pass completion rate while David Rhude led the conference in receptions with 33 and in receiving yards with 518.

State bound in ‘89

To say the Mounders had a stingy defense would have been a clear understatement as not only did the 1989 team win their first six games, they outscored their opponents 201-0. But the offense also had plenty of fire power which included Paulson who ran the ball, returned punts, caught passes from Vincent, punted and did the place kicking. In a 28-0 win over Spring Valley, Vincent completed passes to five different receivers and while blasting Boyceville 40-0, five Mounders crossed the goal line. While pounding Pepin 38-0, a freshman by the name of Jake Morris rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown for the final score. (More about Morris in the next installment.)

The defense finally gave up some points in a 20-12 win over Glenwood City, as they had to come from behind to pull out the win. Down 12-6 in the fourth quarter, Vincent took control again, leading a 68 yard drive and completing a five yard pass to Linberg for the score and Zack Dodge picked off a pass and ran it in from 20 yards away for the winning score. They clinched a playoff berth with a 24-6 come from behind win over Prescott then ended the regular season undefeated with a 25-14 win over Elmwood.

Entering the Division 5 playoffs, Paulson scored all 10 points in the first half against Stratford on a one yard run, an extra point kick and a 27 yard fieldgoal for a 10-8 lead. After falling behind 14-10, Vincent connected for a 30 yard score to Kyle Jensen and Zurbuchen ran for two TDs as Paulson kicked three more extra points for a 31-14 win. Up next was Fall Creek and this time the Mounders found themselves behind at the break 14-7. But Vincent rallied the troops and took them on an 80 yard drive that Pedersen’s teams had now become famous for and finished it off with a 13 yard pass to Linberg. Charlie Storing intercepted a pass and took it to the Crickets eight yard line, and moving to the offense, ran it in with 15 ticks on the clock for a 21-14 win.

One of Pedersen’s assistant coaches Mark Traun, who had been with him 26 years commented on his coaching knowledge.

“One thing I will always admire and be amazed at was Dan’s ability to make adjustments at halftime,” he said. “He could pick things out and see what the opponent was doing and he would make changes, whether it was basketball or football and the kids listened to him. We came back to win a lot of games after being down in the first half.”

Facing an Edgar team who was also 12-0, the third playoff game was played in a snowstorm in Thorp. The passing game wasn’t an option with a slippery ball and a swirling wind so the Mounders had to grind it out on the ground as did the Edgar team. Down 12-0 in the third quarter, the Mounders took advantage of a bad punt attempt by the Wildcats kicker, recovering a fumble, resulting in Paulson eventually scoring on a 20 yard run then kicking the extra point. After shutting Edgar down, another fourth down punt was fumbled and Aaron Stamm recovered it, giving his team possession. Paulson took it in for a 13-12 lead and an interception by Zurbuchen sealed the win to send the Mounders to the state championship game against Hilbert. Although they had more total yards in the title game, 224-193, they fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and with a swarming Hilbert defense sacking Vincent three times and forcing a pair of interceptions, the Mounders managed just a single touchdown by Zurbuchen in the third quarter and they lost 14-6.

Up next, Morris and the Mounders continue to dominate the conference in the nineties.