No revenge for the Eagles; Hilltoppers dominate on the gridiron in Pepin

PEPIN – The Glenwood City football team made their way to the WIAA Division 7 state semi-final game after dominating the field in Pepin for a 30-8 level 3 victory against the Pepin/Alma Eagles last Friday night, November 8.

 Control of the line of scrimmage proved a key element in the Hilltoppers’ second playoff victory over the Eagles in as many years.

An article that had appeared that very morning in an area daily newspaper in which a prominent Pepin/Alma player claimed that the Eagles’ line was better and more physical had Glenwood City’s players and coaches charged up before the opening kickoff.

“Absolutely!” said Glenwood City head coach Shane Strong when asked if his team had taken exception to some of the statements made in the article by Pepin/Alma senior Aikan Major. “They claimed they were more physical than we were. They also stated they had the best line in the state in D7. We wanted to prove them otherwise.”

And that is just what the Hilltoppers did!

“We dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Strong said. “Our offensive line played outstanding. Isaac Tuttle ran with great heart all night on a sore ankle. Our kids played very disciplined defense and we tackled extremely well.”

Injuries also did not help the Eagles, who had entered the game with an unblemished 11-0 mark.

The Eagles suffered two key injuries in the first six minutes of the game when seniors Charlie Raethke, a defensive end and Aikan Major, the full back, left the field and did not return. Raethke was arguably the Eagles top lineman and Major, a bruising full back and team leader.

“They are two good players no doubt,” Strong said of both injured Eagles’ players. “But we proved on the opening drive that we could control them regardless.”

Even with both Raethke and Major playing defense on the opening drive of the game, Glenwood City dominated the line of scrimmage to score the game’s first touchdown.

“On film we knocked both of those kids on their back several times on our way to the opening score,” added Strong.

The Toppers, now 11-1, were not without their issues, however. The Toppers were plagued with a handful of flags and had some untimely turnovers for the second straight week as they lost two of four fumbles.

But Glenwood City persevered and played four solid quarters of football, which led to their four touchdowns and the win.

The first touchdown for the Hilltoppers happened on the opening drive of the game. They received the kick off in 11 plays by Jeff Kopacz, Isaac Tuttle, Nick Mrdutt and Billy Norenberg running their way down the field.

After nearly six minutes of play, Kopacz carried the ball in for a two yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful so the Toppers were on the board 6-0.

The Eagles started their possession on the Hilltoppers’ 45 yard line, but the defensive line shut them down, which brought up fourth down and 10. The Eagles went for the attempt, but a sack on quarterback Sam Mueller gave the Toppers the ball on downs at the 30.

Tuttle carried the ball 14 yards for the first down on the 44. Then it was Kopacz with a six yard gain to move the ball to midfield.

Between the two of them they carried the ball an additional 14 yards to finally breach Eagle territory before the second quarter started.

The new quarter began with the ball on the 36. After 13 total plays, the Toppers hit the end zone on a six yard touchdown run from Tuttle.

Mrdutt connected with Jake Hierlmeier in the corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion to put the team ahead 14-0 with 9:18 left in the first half.

The Eagles started on their own 41 after another long return from Trevor Heit. They moved their way to midfield and were sitting at third and one yard to go until a flag pushed them back five yards.

They would suffer yet another flag on fourth down, which forced them to punt from the Hilltoppers’ 40.

However, Jordan Hill blocked the punt, but made contact with the punter a second too late so the Eagles got the ball back on the Hilltoppers’ 45.

The Eagles would not have any success on that drive, which again forced them to punt. Due to another flag on the Hilltoppers, they started their possession on the five.

It was rough going for the Toppers as they lost the ball on a fumble, which set the Eagles on the 48 and set them up for their first score.

The Eagles carried the ball to the 13 yard line and then Mueller went to the air and connected with John Nuzum for their first and only touchdown of the game.

Mueller handed the ball off to Johnathon Wodarz who passed it to Nuzum for the two-point conversion to put the score at 14-8 with 30 seconds left in the quarter.

The ball was back in the hands of the Eagles in the third quarter after they received the kick and started on the 30. Their drive would end in another punt from Zach Vreeland.

The Toppers set up for their third touchdown of the game after starting on their own 40. Kopacz ran the ball to the Eagles side of the field and then it was Tuttle that pushed his way to the 20 yard line.

From the 10 yard line, Tuttle ran into the end zone for the touchdown and then it was Kopacz with the two-point conversion.

The Eagles would end up punting on their next possession, but were quickly given the ball back  after another Hilltopper fumble.

The defense held them to fourth down and Mueller’s pass attempt failed, which gave the Toppers the ball back on downs on the 49.

The fourth quarter would being with a bad snap, which lost the Hilltoppers five yards. Tuttle however gained those yards back on a long run, but it was still fourth down and six yards to go before the first down.

The Toppers went for it with Kopacz carrying the ball, however a flag was thrown, which pushed them back and forced Richard Ross to punt.

The defensive line continued to do their job for the Hilltoppers as they shut down the Eagles on yet another one of their possessions.

This set the Toppers on the Eagles’ 43 yard line with eight minutes left in the game. A run by Kopacz put them on the 37.

Then it was Tuttle with the ball and he ran from the right sideline, across the field, past the defenders and to the left corner of the end zone for a 37 yard touchdown run. He held onto the ball again for the two-point conversion for the final score of 30-8.

The Eagles came close to the goal line on their final drive, but were stopped on fourth down and one yard by a strong middle line on the Hilltoppers’ side.

The Toppers took the ball in their own hands on their own 27 yard line. Norenberg and Nathan Mrdutt carried the ball to the Eagles’ 40.

With 60 seconds on the clock, Nick Mrdutt took a knee to end the Level 3 playoff game.

The Toppers had a total of 310 yards of offense with 307 rushing yards and three receiving yards.

Tuttle led the game in yardage with 169 rushing on 28 attempts. Kopacz followed with 99 yards on 18 attempts. Norenberg had 22 yards on five attempts and Nathan Mrdutt had 17 yards on four attempts. Hierlmeier had the only reception for the team with the three yard two-point conversion catch.

The Toppers held the Eagles to 120 rushing yards and 24 receiving yards.

The Hilltoppers will now face off against the Pittsville Panthers for the Level 4 game at the Chippewa Falls High School field this Friday night (Nov. 15) starting at 7:00 p.m.

The Panthers are a Marawood Conference team that began the season a 1-3 record after losing to tri-champions Stratford, Marathon and Edgar. Since then Pittsville has reeled off eight straight wins for a 9-3 mark heading into Friday night’s D7 Level 4 (state semi-finals) showdown against Glenwood City. The Panthers, the fourth seed in their bracket opened the Division 7 playoffs with a big win over Bangor, then blanked Independence/Gilmanton before knocking off second-seeded New Lisbon, co-champions of the Scenic Bluffs Conference, in last week’s level 3 contest.

Coach Strong said that Pittsville runs multiple offensive formations but prefer the pro-style I-Formation attack and are lead by junior running back Nathan Dupree. The 5’ 9” 175 lb. runner has rushed for 1,035 yards on 137 attempts and has 15 touchdowns. That is a 7.6 yard per carry average or 129.4 yards per game.

Sophomore Alec Kolar is the other back and has run for 432 yards and is the Panthers’ top pass receiver with 10 catches for 221 yards and six touchdowns. Kolar had three rushing touchdowns in last Friday’s 39-20 win over New Lisbon and also had a 97-yard kickoff return for a score.

Senior Brad Wesley is the Panthers signal caller. So far this season, Wesley is 27 for 56 passing for 481 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception.

“First we need to make sure we line up correctly against their multiple formation looks,” Strong noted as an important key for his team. “I want our kids to play fast and confident so we will not make too many adjustments away from our base scheme.

“We need to control the line of scrimmage,” concluded Strong. “No turnovers and a special team’s touchdown.”